Sergio Mendes / Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77

Sergio Mendes

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The mystery-driven bossa and pop-samba of Sergio Mendes' 1960s and early-'70s work was already giving way by this point -- 1975 -- to a much more straight-ahead version of radio fare. Given that this was the dawning of the age of disco, and that Barry Manilow was already striking the charts hard, it is totally explainable, if not totally forgivable. For Mendes, his strength had always been in highly original, indelibly Brazilian interpretations of the hits, from "Fool on the Hill" to "Goin' Out of My Head" to virtually a hundred other American chart hits, interspersed with modern readings of traditional Brazilian songs. On this disc, produced in association with schlockmeister Dave Grusin, his first for Elektra, Mendes settles for very straight and lackluster readings of "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" and "All in Love Is Fair," by Stevie Wonder -- versions that pale miserably in comparison with the originals. To be fair, there is Leon Ware's "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" that deals up a handy serving of light, funky soul with the traditional two-female chorus against a backdrop of Motown-style strings and chunky electric piano. Truly unforgivable is George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," with a lilting, shimmering piano and Stax guitar line against a completely deadpan female vocal. Near the end of the record is a beautiful, if very straight, reading of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free." It lacks the drama of the original, but in its low-key presentation perhaps gets the essence of the song's meaning across better and is an unqualified success. Ultimately, this is a pretty shoddy Sergio Mendes album. The collectors will have to have fit for their own perverse reasons, but there are far better places to start and finish than this.

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