Sergio Mendes takes (a few more) chances on Bon Tempo, his third release for Concord since 2006, all the while stepping concertedly toward the urban market in the same way that Brasil 66 shot at the heart of the pop market nearly half a century ago. Mendes produced the set himself and enlisted the talents of both Brazilian and American musicians. His element of risk comes in the form of using the songs of Brazilian composers almost exclusively -- both classic and modern -- and in some cases, radically re-interpreting them for a decidedly non-Brazilian market. One such example is in the opening re-creation of of Gilberto Gil's and João Donato's "Emorio," and making it a driving, synthetically funky dancefloor heater. Featuring lead vocals by Nayanna Holley and a rap from Carlinhos Brown (whose presence on the album is pronounced) it employs "elements" (samples) of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Surfboard," and Mendes' own signature recording of "Mas Que Nada." The layers of synths by Mikael Mutti nearly offset the fine Brazilian rhythmic invention. Mendes takes a fine piano solo, but the effect is strange nonetheless. "Maracatu Atomico" with Seu Jorge on vocals is a little less so, even when the twisting, angular clavinet solo turns the piece toward funky hip-hop. Holley and Brown re-team on the latter's "You and I." This is simply an urban tune with a couple of carnival rhythms tossed into the dancefloor thump. The sheen on Jobim's "Só Tinha de Ser Com Você," with vocals by Gracinha Leporace, is disquieting but nonetheless recognizable, and it may resonate with contemporary jazz fans. Other tunes are (a little) more traditional, such as Moacir Santos' lovely "Maracatu (Nation of Love)" and Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados," with a beautiful vocal by Leporace and sparse, elegant Rhodes work by Mendes. The lone cover on the set is of Stevie Wonder's "The Real Thing" with vocals by Katie Hampton. With its cut-time house rhythm, layers of keyboards, and bright horn section, it works, and it should at urban radio as well. As another experiment in Mendes' catalog, this set may indeed bring listeners initially attracted by contemporary production and hypnotic dance rhythms to the rich melodic and polyrhythmic world of Brazilian music through the back door.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek