This time, Sergio Mendes freed himself from any commercial expectations, plunged deep into Brazil, and came up with a boldly experimental yet beautifully impressionistic album of Brazilian folk and popular music. Many of the tracks here are ritualistic in structure, with call-and-response vocals, sprinkled with native Brazilian percussion instruments like the agogo, cuica, atabaques and the weird single-string berimbau, creating mysterious moods and grooves. Oscar Castro-Neves -- whose guitar shines throughout the album -- and bassist Sebastiao Neto wrote one gorgeous tune, "After Sunrise," and Mendes adapts folk songs as well as Baden Powell's "Iemanja" and Dori Caymmi's now-well-known "Promessa de Pescador" to the blend of Brasil '77 female vocals and Brazilian tropical sounds. The record is dominated by a single, gigantic 19-minute piece, "The Circle Game," a rambling, multi-sectioned tour de force with extended Brazilian grooves, properly exotic jazz flute solos from Tom Scott, and dissonant improvisations touching on the jazz avant-garde. Understandably, Primal Roots remained dear to Mendes' heart even though it was not a sales blockbuster, and it gives credence to the not-often-floated idea of Mendes as innovator, whose uncompromising explorations of world music sounds place this record years ahead of its time.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell