Sergio Mendes is perhaps the most durable survivor of a ’60s Latin pop fad that produced such contemporaries as Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and the Baja Marimba Band. Brasil ’66 has seen many incarnations, and the energy remains at fever pitch with Brasil 2002. Winding up a monthlong fall vocal fest at the Blue Note, Mendes and his fiery septet grooved on traditional bossa and the thundering Brasileiro rhythms of the north country.
Band is a hotbed of rhythm, fronted by a couple of classy ladies. Gracinha Leporace is the principal vocalist, backed up by the enticing presence of the sizzling young Jessica Taylor. With a consistent fever-pitched unity, the entire set never let up.
Mendes governs from the Yamaha with assured intensity and confidence. His playing is strong and direct. His muscular leadership fuels his group, which is given plenty of space to romp.
Center of the set was a tribute to the father of bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Topped by “Desafinado” — the song that started a craze and gave jazz just the shot in the arm in needed in the mid-’60s — the grouping was followed by “One Note Samba” and the always affecting “Waters of March.” The supple, insinuating medley was sung in the original Portuguese by Leporace and Taylor. The rhythmic thrust and affecting romanticism of the Jobim legacy remains irresistibly infectious.
Showpiece was a dazzling 15- minute solo spot by Meia Noite. Bounding from tambo and conga to bongo and cowbells, the extraordinary percussionist even had the aud join in for a hand-clapping call and response. Mendes and the ladies left the stand for a long break as the versatile and explosive Noite burned the tubs and skins.
Closers were two Mendes milestones, Jorge Ben’s “Mas Que Nada” and “Tristeza (Goodbye)” by Harold Lobo-Torquato, reaching back to the glory days of the original Brasil ’66. It remains a buoyant groove all the way.