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Music Review: Sergio Mendes – Bom Tempo and Bom Tempo Brasil Remixed

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For over four decades, Brazilian jazz artist Sergio Mendes has displayed a knack for combining his homeland's unique sounds with modern trends. In the '60s, he scored hits such as "Mas Que Nada" and showed his ability to reinterpret Beatles classics such as "With A Little Help from My Friends" and "Fool on the Hill." He reemerged in the '80s as a light rock artist, filling the radio airwaves with songs like "Never Gonna Let You Go" and "Alibis." In the last decade, Mendes has once again reinvented himself, this time as a crossover artist infusing Brazilian music with hip hop accents. His latest release, Bom Tempo, continues his newest journey, as does its accompanying album Bom Tempo Brasil Remixed.

On 2006's Timeless, the Black Eyed Peas's will.i.am oversaw Mendes's music makeover, retaining that irresistible percussion but adding heavier beats and modern vocalists such Jill Scott and John Legend. Mendes's followup, Encanto, further explored the jazz-hip hop fusion but leaned more toward his classic bossa nova sound, enlisting artists and musicians from around the world to remake classics such as "The Look of Love" and "Waters of March." Bom Tempo lies squarely in the middle, utilizing hip hop beats but never neglecting his trademark smooth sound. Songwriters such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Joao Donato, Carlinhos Brown, Jorge Benjor, Milton Nascimento, Moacir Santos, and Stevie Wonder are spotlighted on this collection of remakes.

"Let me see you shake it," sings Navanna Holley on the first cut, "Emorio." This sentiment reflects the tone of the entire album, which celebrates Mendes's long career. Including a slightly heavier drumbeat, the track adds a rap break and samples from past hits "Mas Que Nada" and "The Frog." The infectious beat of "Maracatu Atomico" immediately follows, continuing the party atmosphere. "You and I" shows Mendes's ear for melody as well as his laid-back piano skills. 

Mendes also shows a willingness to incorporate other musical influences, such as on the African-kissed "Magalenha." Brasil '66 fans should enjoy "Orpheus (Quiet Carnival)," as its gentle rhythms and lovely chord changes recall his early career. "Maracatu (Nation of Love)" features an intriguing guest vocal by Seu Jorge, who possesses a distinctive voice perfectly suiting the samba rhythm. "Caminhos Cruzados" should also appease original fans, as its simple arrangement focuses on the piano, guitar, and percussion, along with a seductive performance by vocalist Gracinha Leporace. Another tune, "Caxanga," effectively features singer Milton Nascimento and Mendes's exquisite piano playing. 

As on previous albums, Bom Tempo contains reboots of well-known Mendes cuts. One song that is enhanced by a modern makeover is "The Real Thing," written for Mendes by Wonder. Emphasizing the bass within the chorus reveals the complicated bass lines in Brazilian music, and the percussion solo illustrates the seductive sounds and rhythms in the genre.

Not all tracks benefit from the modern rebooting, however. "Ye Me Le" is made over with a heavier beat, slightly faster tempo, and a superfluous rap break. The 2010 version of "Pais Tropical" also does not improve upon the '66 version, particularly with the rap solo. The original contains such a catchy beat that it doesn't require these heavy-handed touches. The delicate "Só Tinha De Ser Come Você" should have a slow to midtempo beat; here, Mendes puts an unnecessarily uptempo spin on the beautiful ballad. This reinvention fails to improve upon the original.

Despite some missteps, Bom Tempo is worth a listen for its ear-pleasing combination of jazz, world music, and modern R&B. Once again Mendes displays his talent for capitalizing on current music, yet never neglecting his signature Brazilian sounds. Original fans may wince at the hip hop flourishes, but if these touches will entice new fans to explore Mendes's extensive catalog, then Bom Tempo has accomplished a great task.

To accompany the new CD, Mendes has released Bom Tempo Brasil Remixed, a compilation of DJ and producer remixes of Bom Tempo album tracks. Aimed at club audiences, the album contains some radical rethinking of Mendes tunes. Paul Oakenfold puts his dizzying spin on "Maracatu Atomico" and "Emorio," while DJ Chuckie lends a decidedly disco slant to "Ye Me Le."

The most successful tracks stress the percussion without overshadowing the singers and the songs's original sound. Bimbo Jones accomplishes this with his re-visioning of "The Real Thing," while Nicola Conte places the seductive Brazilian beats front and center on the Zona Sul version of "Só Tinha De Ser Come Você." Mario C. wisely adds only subtle touches to his remix of "Maracatu (Nation of Love)"–the vocals and lovely chord changes should not be overwhelmed by heavy beats.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the cuts are tailor made for the clubs. The Cutmore remix of "You and I" manages to add a faster, dance-friendly beat without completely overshadowing the samba beat and Mendes' keyboards. The Funk Generation mix of "Orpheus" is made for the clubs, with its rapid tempo and strong beats. Moto Blanco's remix of "Magalenha" retains its Brazilian rhythms and vocals but add a dance beat; however, this pulsing beat becomes repetitive toward the end.

Overall, club DJs will best appreciate Bom Tempo Brasil Remixed, as many of its tracks are perfectly suited for the dance floor. Otherwise, only hardcore Mendes collectors may wish to add this to their music libraries.

For more information, visit Sergio Mendes's official site and MySpace Music page.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • http://www.AMCorner.com Steve Sidoruk

    Overall, you have written a thoughtful and informed review of Sergio’s “Bom Tempo.” I would however, disagree with your assessment of two tunes, “Ye-Me-Le” and “Pais Tropical.”

    I first saw Sergio & Brasil ’66 open the show for Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass in June ’66 and have been a die-hard fan ever since. I have seen him many times in concert over the years. I’ve fully explored all of his pre-A&M recordings and post A&M albums as well.

    That being said, I would urge you to listen more to “Pais Tropical” and “Ye-Me-Le” and perhaps re-think your position. They both fit the album’s concept very well. None of the re-makes are necessarily better than the originals, just different and modernized. There will always be those who only like the originals and that may well be the case here. I do love the new CD and I think the absolutely “grooviest” tune therein is the new vesion of “Pais Tropical.” Turn up the volume and listen to Sergio’s acoustic piano fills, which we rarely hear anymore and the synth marimba interwoven with the melody. For me, it took a song that I always liked, plodding though it was, and turned it into something much better!

    “Ye-Me-Le” likewise was improved via the facelift that all received on “Bom Tempo.” It was sped up from it’s former chant-like format to a driving dance beat, which clearly works quite well.

    Further, something not mentioned previously, is that some of the instrumentation and arrangements of a couple of the re-made tunes are clearly reminiscent of Sergio’s outings on Atlantic. These were jazzy instrumentals and perhaps unknown to many is that some were recorded during the same period that he was having his early success as Brasil ’66 on A&M Records.

    Sergio Mendes has certainly paid his dues over his many years as a major force in the music world and the success of his recent releases, “Timeless,” “Encanto” and now “Bom Tempo,” are certainly letting his music be heard and appreciated by new and younger audiences.

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. That’s an interesting point that some of the Bom Tempo’s material reflects Sergio’s Atlantic work, and I agree that his recent albums will introduce his music to new generations.