It’s possible to come up with a rationale for the pairing of the durable Sergio Mendes and Portland’s 11-person Pink Martini band on one bill — an attempt to cater to the campy late-’90s phenomenon known as “lounge.” But the rationale is a false one: Pink Martini certainly fits in that camp, but Mendes emphatically does not. His distinctive, sexy, smooth-running, hot-selling blend of Brazilian bossa nova and American jazz and pop in the 1960s opened the gates of North America for a flood of gifted Brazilian composers other than the ubiquitous A. C. Jobim. In his hourlong set at the Hollywood Bowl, we heard reminders of some of these imports, like the cooking “Casa Forte” and celebratory “Tristeza” of Edu Lobo, the trademark fast patter of “Viramundo” by Gilberto Gil and, not the least, Jorge Ben’s enduring hit for Mendes, “Mas Que Nada.” And yes, there was a Jobim medley, too.
Mendes was also a prophet of sorts for world music, for his 1972 album “Primal Roots” — a journey into the interior of Brazil — and at the Bowl, Mendes devoted a lot of time to the battering rhythms and sounds of Bahia, even retrofitting some of his earlier songs.
Mendes’ band, though, was not shown off in its best light Friday. The sound was often badly mixed, his current drummer could be overbearing, the Los Angeles Philharmonic was an unnecessary intruder even when attempting some of those memorable swirling Dave Grusin charts, and Mendes played his piano solos on an overbright Yamaha keyboard.
But Mendes’ signature female lead singers, led by his wife Gracinha Leporace, were in fine form, and 1968 hits like “The Fool on the Hill” and “The Look of Love” were given their due.
Pink Martini, on the other hand, takes you back for some real camp — twitching, heavy symphonic mambos; a flamboyant pianist (Thomas Lauderdale) who alternately evokes Liberace, Elton John and Chico Marx; a Brazil that only Carmen Miranda would recognize; and, would you believe, a perfectly straight account of “Que Sera Sera.” Their transformation of Ravel’s “Bolero” at the start was pretty clever, but the act descended into tiresome kitsch before long.