Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Herb Alpert & Sergio Mendes: getting better all the time

The eminent music critic Will Friedwald just weighed in on two exciting new CDs we chose to carry before even hearing them: Magic by Sergio Mendes and In the Mood by Herb Alpert. Both albums involve colorful collaborations with musicians from various genres and generations. Below are excerpts from his Wall Street Journal review.

"There's no fancy chart here [on "When Sunny Gets Blue"], just Mr. Alpert playing Marvin Fisher's melody with much obvious love, delineating it deliberately and meaningfully. It's the most exposed and vulnerable Mr. Alpert has ever sounded on record."—Will Friedwald. You can hear "Chattanooga Choo Cho" and "Don't Cry" from Alpert's In the Mood on this edition of NPR's World Cafe. Photo by Chris Adjani.
Apart from the way their careers and personal lives have been linked—Lani Hall, most famously a singer in Mr. Mendes's ensemble, who has been Mrs. Alpert since 1973—the two have a lot in common: They're both among the final artists who achieved blockbuster hits as interpreters of songs composed by others (prior to the takeover by singer-songwriters at the start of the 1970s). And, perhaps not coincidentally, they're also among the few hitmakers of the rock 'n' roll era whose appeal wasn't specific to any one generation. During The Great Society years, kids were buying the Rolling Stones and The Supremes, while their parents bought Dean Martin and Perry Como. But everybody bought Sergio Mendes's Brasil '66 and Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass.
Now Mr. Alpert's "In the Mood" (Shout! Factory) and Mr. Mendes's "Magic" (Sony) show the two auteurs at their best and, on different tracks, at their most populist—which is not always the same thing. "In the Mood" doesn't include the famous swing-era song that inspired the album's title, but it does begin with another landmark hit for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, "Chattanooga Choo Choo." The first sounds we hear on the album are electronically generated beats, which may cause you to assume for a minute that Mr. Alpert has changed the name of his ensemble to the Tijuana Techno. But the famous Harry Warren melody quickly arrives in the form of Mr. Alpert's signature brass sound....
"John Legend's guest shot on 'Don't Say Goodbye' shows how perfect the Mendes sound is for backing up a wide range of celebrity singers."—Will Friedwald
Mr. Mendes's "Magic" proves that his music has been, since his first album in the early '60s, a kind of musical feijoada, a Brazilian stew, in which the basic ingredient, the soup stock as it were, is Mr. Mendes's familiar samba beat…..Baritone Seu Jorge evokes both romance and a party atmosphere, whether singing or speaking, on "Sou Eu," a South American standard by composer Moacir Santos, whom Wynton Marsalis has dubbed "The Duke Ellington of Brazil." The beats on Milton Nascimento's "Olha a Rua" (with a vocal by the composer) and "One Nation," co-written by Mr. Mendes and guest vocalist Carlinhos Brown, both split the difference between dancing and parading down the street during Carnival. Deep-voiced Ana Carolina delivers the most sensual vocal of the set on "Atlantica"; Mika Mutti follows her with beautifully vocalized harmonica lines that turn the number into a virtual love duet, and then, when Mr. Mendes begins singing with the two of them, it becomes a ménage à trois. "Meu Rio," with a vocal by Maria Gadu, adds strings to the mix in the form of a solo cello and percussion in the form of handclaps, which suggests flamenco.
In this excerpt from NPR's All Things Considered, Mendes talks about his first "big break." Below, the John Legend track from Magic.


  1. I've always loved Brazilian music. I tried to memorize the lovely Portuguese lyrics to Chove Chuva (Constant is the rain) or Vou te contar (Wave), for their soft, sibilant sound-- except I sounded more like a drunken Spaniard with a lisp!
    If the current collection is anything like the past, it will be intoxicating and addictive!
    It'll be a hoot to hear Herb Alpert of Tijuana Taxi fame tackling the very different "Chattanooga Choo-choo". (the lyrics to which I do know by heart)

    1. I wish we could have a virtual duet on Chattanooga! I've also had a long love affair w/ brazilian samba, ever since being turned on by Charlie Byrd's guitar playing in the '60s. And my parents had the seminal Getz & Gilberto album. I've even managed to work up creditable versions of One Note Samba and Wave on the guitar!

    2. Multi-talented! I can think of nothing finer than the beach, a cool drink, and samba played on a solo guitar! Que bela vida!

  2. it takes a good eye to recognize real talent and this is what i see here in this post. he is so thorough and poignant with his reviews that i just loved reading them anyway