Sergio Mendes – Magic (2014)

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In a career that spans five decades, bossa nova maestro Sergio Mendes apparently has no plans to slow down. After his worldwide breakthrough with his group Brasil ’66, he continued recording hits featuring largely unknown singers. Timeless, his unlikely 2006 collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, introduced Mendes to a new generation. Since then, he has consistently released albums featuring a mixture of his signature bossa nova sound, R&B, and touches of hip hop.

Magic is no exception, as it largely continues where his last album Bom Tempo left off. While skewing heavily toward fellow Brazilian artists, Mendes also welcomes American artists such as John Legend, Janelle Monae and, in an encore appearance, will.iam. Overall, Magic casts a pleasant spell of jazz, soul, hip hop, and bossa nova that presents an overview of Mendes’ signature sound.

Mendes’ fine piano work graces every Magic cut, with legendary and new Brazilian artists combining their talents with the legend. The opening track “Simbora” sends the listener on a virtual trip to Rio Carnival, with Mendes’ piano cutting loose over a dizzying beat. Mendes’ wife Gracinha Leporace evokes Astrud Gilberto’s wispy vocal on “Samba de Roda” while a sprightly trumpet solo maintains the celebratory atmosphere. She also helms the seductive “When I Fell in Love” and “Hidden Waters,” both Brazilian takes on contemporary jazz. Her voice effortlessly glides over flutes and subtle yet rhythmic persuasion.

Familiar names also surface on Magic, released this month on OKeh: Legend particularly shines on “Don’t Say Goodbye,” proving that his smooth vocals can wrap around virtually any beat. Mendes’ understated piano perfectly cushions Legend’s breezy voice, with the veteran musician executing a tasteful, light solo. Monae gamely tries her hand at singing jazz on “Visions of You,” although her voice proves a bit too thin for the complex chord changes.

Fans of Timeless will enjoy cuts such as “One Nation,” a highly danceable track featuring Carlinhos Brown. The song proves that hip hop and Brazilian rhythms are not as far apart as one would think. “My My My My Love” reunites Mendes with producer will.i.am; Cody Wise, a will.i.am protege, joins the party. Clearly meant to woo the EDM and hip hop communities, the track forces fans on the dance floor with heavy beats and a robotic sound. However, Mendes enters the fray with a lovely ending solo that somehow fits the track’s thoroughly modern feel.

While Magic appeals to multi-generations, original fans will appreciate throwbacks such as “Olha a Rua,” a jazz workout featuring Milton Nascimento. The legendary Brazilian vocalist and guitarist energizes Mendes, with the two trading guitar and piano riffs while a popping bass adds a touch of funk. No English translation is necessary for sensual ballads like “Atlantica,” with guest vocalist Ana Carolina crooning in beautiful Portuguese.

Perhaps no other track showcases Mendes’ piano better than the title track, a gentle mid-tempo number featuring Mendes’ deceptively simple finger work throughout. Guest saxophonist Scott Mayo playfully duets with Mendes, their instruments accenting contemporary jazz with Latin spice. This is what Mendes is about: crossing boundaries and bringing world music to an international audience. Magic continues this trend, and demonstrates that Mendes remains musically relevant over 50 years later.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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