Review: ‘Sergio Mendes’

Sergio Mendes sold out the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night. Mendes' first new album in 10 years, "Timeless" (Concord/Hear Music), with its rapprochement with hip-hop, plus the mighty power of a Starbucks promo push, put Mendes, 65, back in a familiar position as a bridge between cultures and styles. So a concert apparently designated as a remembrance of days gone by became a celebration of past and present, with a huge audience spread across generations and ethnic groups.

Sergio Mendes sold out the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night. Mendes’ first new album in 10 years, “Timeless” (Concord/Hear Music), with its rapprochement with hip-hop, plus the mighty power of a Starbucks promo push, put Mendes, 65, back in a familiar position as a bridge between cultures and styles. So a concert apparently designated as a remembrance of days gone by became a celebration of past and present, with a huge audience spread across generations and ethnic groups.

“Timeless” — a collaboration between Black Eyed Peas’ producer-songwriter will.i.am and his idol, Mendes — tries to hammer the stiffer, heavier rhythms of hip-hop onto the lightly surfing grooves of bossa nova and samba, with sporadic success.

Live, Mendes’ band was more in control of the groove, leaning in the direction of Brazil, and the two styles seemed to fuse together better that way. Mendes sounds more comfortable with this experiment now — and he took plenty of melodic solo room on his Yamaha keyboard.

Mendes’ tightly segued, smooth-running set also served as a fairly thorough retrospective of the past 40 years — taking in the silky, sexy Brasil ’66 period; his prescient experiments with the exotic rhythms of Brazil’s interior; and his championing of composers like Jorge Ben, Baden Powell, Gilberto Gil, Joao Donato and the inevitable A.C. Jobim.

There was a reminder of Mendes’ past pop assimilations, as he and singer Joe Pizzulo re-created their 1983 mega-hit ballad “Never Gonna Let You Go.” The song has not dated well, although the 21st-century crowd apparently thought otherwise, as thousands of illuminated cell phones swayed in the night.

The emotional high point of the evening, though, was Mendes’ reunion with former lead singer Lani Hall, whose cool, clear voice shone once again through Brasil ’66 hits like “The Look of Love,” “The Fool on the Hill” and Mendes’ exquisite, overlooked “So Many Stars.”

She was accompanied by her husband, Herb Alpert, the man who signed Mendes’ Brasil ’66 to A&M Records 40 years ago and, coincidentally, is enjoying a remix renaissance himself with “Whipped Cream Rewhipped” (Shout! Factory). Alpert’s trumpet still has its distinctive, melancholy timbre, now a bit freer and jazzier, and he and Mendes traded licks with unfeigned charm.

Two participants on “Timeless” and the Mendes set, the four-guitar Maogani Quartet, and Brazilian rap star Marcelo D2, played opening sets of their own — the Maogani with subtle, complex explorations of Jobim and Powell; and Marcelo’s band pounding away at hip-hop, funk, jazz-rock and finally some samba as their leader rapped in Portuguese.

Sergio Mendes

Hollywood Bowl; 17,391 seats; $93 top

Production

Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. Reviewed June 25, 2006.

Cast

Performers: Sergio Mendes (Gracinha Leporace, Dawn Bishop, Krishna Booker, Mike Shapiro, Carlos Del Rosario, Kleber Jorge, Leo Nobre, Meia Noite, Gibi), Herb Alpert, Lani Hall, India.Arie, John Legend, Joe Pizzulo, Q-Tip, Marcelo D2, Maogani Quartet (Paulo Aragao, Marcus Alves, Carlos Chaves, Mauricio Marques)
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