PANAMANIA: Sergio Mendes performs for Panamania to close out the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. Below, Corktown resident and correspondent Dennis Kucherawy reviews the show along with Mendes’ latest CD “Magic.”
By Dennis Kucherawy
Last Sunday night at the Pan Am Games’ closing ceremony at the Rogers’ Centre, Kanye West brought his show to an abrupt ‘Hip Hop Interruptus” end. Frustrated by sound difficulties, he threw his microphone into the air and left the stage.
He said nothing. No cracks — wise or otherwise — for a change.
Meanwhile, at nearby Nathan Phillips Square, Sergio Mendes, one of bossa nova and jazz fusion’s pioneers and most successful pop performers, thrilled a more-than-capacity crowd with one of the most entertaining performances Toronto has seen in years. Children to octogenarians danced, even physically challenged people, some in wild abandon, from the first notes to the last chord.
For almost half-a-century, Mendes has brought his percussion-driven bossa nova and Latin arrangements to the world. His concert, featuring many numbers from his new CD titled “Magic,” revealed his music was as sexy and scintillating as ever.
Born 74 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Mendes certainly gave Toronto and our guests a preview of the torrid music we can expect when Brazil hosts the 2016 Olympics.
In fact, 2016 will be the 50th anniversary of their breakout hit album, “Herb Alpert Presents: Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.” (Herb Alpert was the leader of the Tijuana Brass and is the co-founder of A&M records. He is the “A” in A&M.)
And the 2016 honors don’t stop. Also next year, Mendes and his band will headline Abu Dhabi’s Annual Cultural Festival.
That album featured their hit single “Mas Que Nada” (by Jorge Ben) that is still popular today. Closing Sunday night’s show, the powerful song still inspired energy and joy in everyone who swayed and shimmied with incomparable feel-good smiles.
“It was the first time a song in Portuguese was a hit in America and around the world,” Mendes said last year.
In case you wondered, the lyrics are about dancing:
“Get out of my way / I wanna pass / Because samba is really exciting / And I wanna dance.”
(The song’s samba rhythm is mixed with maracatu, a regional rhythm from Brazil’s northeast.)
In his early years, Mendes played in nightclubs, often with his mentor Antonio Carlos Jobin (“The Girl from Ipanema”), and sat in with American jazz musicians touring Brazil. Eventually, he recorded and toured with jazz greats Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann before forming Brasil ’66.
The band’s sexy, jazz-inflected sound back then featured singers Lani Hall (Herb Alpert’s future wife) and Bibi Vogel followed by Janis Hansen. To complement their Brazilian songs, the band also recorded exotic… and at times sultry, sensual and languid … arrangements of pop numbers such as “Going Out of My Head, the Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill” and an upbeat version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” that were top 10 singles.
In 1983, they hit the top of the record charts with “Never Gonna Let You Go” written by legendary songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. They are a hit machine known for such pop classics as “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “He’s So Shy” and “Running with the Night” they wrote for such act from The Ronettes to the Righteous Brothers, the Animals and Lionel Richie.
Joe Pizzulo, who recorded that version more than 30 years ago, returned as a guest Sunday night to sing it again beautifully with one of Sergio’s gorgeous backup singers Katie Hampton. (His other singers were Ayanna Williams and his wife, Gracinha Leporace and guest rapper Harrell Harris aka H20.) Band members included percussionist Marco B. Dosfantos, drummer Leo Costa, bassist Alphonso Johnson, guitarist/vocalist Kleber Jorge Pimenta and keyboardist Jamieson Trotter.
Mendes burst on the international scene when he performed the Oscar-nominated Burt Bacharach-Hal David song “The Look of Love” on the 1986 Oscars telecast. He was seen by billions of people worldwide.
Mendes is considered a pioneer because he was the first musician to integrate jazz with African and European traditions in pop culture.
Throughout his career, he has worked to feature Brazil’s best composers, singers and musicians.
A reason for his success is he has always kept pace with changing styles of music. In 2006, he released “Timeless,” a recording produced by Black-Eyed Peas’ rapper, songwriter and producer will.i.am. Its urban, hip hop spin featured many neo soul and alternative hip hop artists as guests.
The lead single was a re-imagined version of “Mas QueNada” recorded with The Black Eyed Peas. Other guest artists included Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, Mendes’ wife Gracinha Leporace, Q-Tip and John Legend.
The lead track on his 2008 CD “Encanto,” showcases Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas singing a hip-hop, re-imagined version of “The Look of Love.” The CD’s guests also include Natalie Cole and “Dreamer,” a reunion with Lani Hall performing with her husband Herb Alpert.
His approach paid off. Now critics have hailed Mendes”new “Magic” CD as “one of his most satisfying recordings.”
However, Mendes admits he misses the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s because they were more melodic than now. “We’re living in very un-melodic days right now,” he told a reporter with axs online. “It’s not nostalgia. I really miss melodies. Even going to a movie or when you used to walk out of a movie, with all those songs in your heart. Right now, there’s a lot of special effects, electronic music…But it’s a period in time, and the great melodies will come back.”
Another reason for his longevity is his curiosity, he explains: “I love to learn. I love to work with different people. It’s just a wonderful thing to travel and to go to different places. I think my curiosity brings me to meet with younger and exciting people, like what I did on my record with will.i.am and now, with my new record, working with people like John Legend and young Brazilian artists. I like that very much.
“I don’t like to repeat what I did in the past. I like to go for new things, new experiences. That is what keeps me going [with] passion for what I do.”
Two exciting and infectious sambas bookend the album. They both feature Carlinhos Brown on lead vocals. First, it’s “One Nation” and the final song “Simbora.” These two tracks alone convinced me to attend Mendes’ concert at Nathan Phillips Square.
“My, My, My, My Love,” produced by will.i.am, is a funky number blending electronic percussion with Mendes’ pulsating piano playing.
“Don’t Say Goodbye” features John Legend’s customary smooth vocals.
Enough, already. Just pick up a copy of “Magic” and discover its enchanting joys for yourself.
“Magic” as well as all of Sergio Mendes’ recordings are available at Song & Script. Visit songandscript.ca or phone 416-923-3044.
- One Nation (Feat. Carlinhos Brown)
- My, My, My Love (Sergio Mendes & will.i.am feat. Cody Wise)
- Don’t Say Goodbye (Feat. John Legend)
- Sou Eu (Feat. Seu Jorge)
- When I Fell in Love (Feat. Gracinha Leporace)
- Meu Rio (Feat. Maria Gadu)
- Magic (Feat. Scott Mayo)
- Samba De Roda (Feat. Aila Menezes & Gracinha Leporace)
- Atlantica (Feat. Ana Carolina)
- Olha a Rua (Feat. Milton Nascimento)
- Hidden Waters (Feat. Gracinha Leporace)
- Simbora (Feat. Carlinhos Brown)
Dennis Kucherawy has been a Corktown resident for almost 30 years and is looking forward excitedly to Toronto’s 2015 ParaPan Am Games.