Encanto

Sergio Mendes

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Encanto Review

by John Bush

Though he's always been at the front of the show, Sergio Mendes has often gotten by with the help of his friends. As in 1965, so in 2008. The newest update of Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 -- feel free to call it Brasil '08 -- has a varied cast, led by co-producer will.i.am, who adapts his style well to urban and Brazilian forms. It also includes will.i.am's Black Eyed Peas bandmate Fergie, doing "The Look of Love" in a version that may never reach the heights of the original, but never becomes as embarrassing as "My Humps." Surprisingly, it's a good performance from Fergie; although she never approaches the sultriness of Dusty Springfield's original, her quick-paced singing on the verses is some kind of career highlight. Elsewhere, Mendes deserves most of the credit, especially since will.i.am only bookends the album (he produces the first two tracks and the last two). Encanto makes room for a parade of excellent musicians, including Carlinhos Brown, Ledisi, Natalie Cole, and Herb Alpert. (Not to be left out is the rhythm section, anchored by bass veterans Alphonso Johnson or Liminha.) The material breezes over quite a few Brazilian classics of the bossa nova era, and gives them just enough freshness to sound new. "Waters of March," with Johnson's nimble bass, makes room for a fine Ledisi vocal (granted, it's difficult to fail on that song). Mendes takes several solos on acoustic piano or Rhodes, best on the Herb Alpert feature "Dreamer." Overall, Encanto is a difficult record to judge; from the cover and the first two tracks, it appears to be urban all the way. The bulk of the album, however, is modern Brazilian jazz-fusion with an array of excellent musicians. Hopefully, its two potential audiences -- dance or hip-hop fans and Latin jazz listeners -- aren't steered away from it by thinking it's only concerned with one or the other.

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