Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 the formal banner of the self-titled debute was a very important LP for A&M. Presumably recorded and released during mid-to-late 1966, Sergio Mendes latest pop group seemed destined for instant acclaim. Just as Herb had worked for 3+ years en route to discovering a magic formula (to guarantee radio airplay and LP sales), Sergio, apparently had similarly been working the previous few years on a satisfying Brazilianification of American jazz and pop.
His efforts paid notable dividends as on his A&M debute, he discovered his own magic formula of sorts: emphasize Brazilian treatments of US pop standards and contemporary pieces (sung in English), intermixed with a few Brazilian pieces that, one would assume, have undergone little compromise for US ears. Actually, the formula makes perfect sense by giving in on the pop need of familiarity, one can argue that a certain allowance for (more) authentic ethnic music would result. You know its the Ill-give-you-this-and-in-return-you-give-me-that approach to LP production. Of course, the benefits are obvious: At his disposal, a palette full of hundreds of top-quality North American pop songs ripe for a Brazilian-US collision. and in due time, Sergio would consider many
To most people, Brazilian music probably conjures up the immensely popular samba and boss nova kick of 1962-64 and with that normally comes the name, Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim. Jobims singular importance could never be overemphasized regarding bossa integration into American jazz and pop genres; however, by far the most successful pop recording career sustained by any Brazilian musician during the past 40 years would have to be Sergio Mendes. Arguably, no other Brazilian performer has had greater continuous pop influence.
In the world of 1966 A&M, Herb was a numero uno international pop star a post he would enjoy for 2 additional years. Yet, in terms of long-lasting band musical impact, arguably, Sergio flourished over Herb. This is mostly a result of both his contemporary staying power (an attribute of working ethnic music into the pop bag), and that his music was vocal music, not the difficult-to-market instrumental fair that characterizes Herbs career. Put another way: groups that overtly copied the TjB feel are either all but forgotten or recognized as nostalgic hayrides that dot the pop landscape now and again. On the other hand, groups continuously call upon Mendes Brasil 66/77 combo stylings when desiring to incorporate Brazilian facets into their ameri-pop music. Indeed, this has been the case since Mas, Que Nada! paralyzed unsuspecting DJ and listener alike back in 1966. That very single was probably the most treasured non-bossa Brazilian export this side of Ipenema.
That Sergio is single-handily responsible for the most significant Brazilian-American pop music during the past 42 years in an understatement; and even though the LPs and singles may not have always catapulted into the top-40 kingdom, his influence within the music industry is overwhelming. Heck, for all its fame and glory, Mas, Que Nada! only peaked the singles charts at #47 but its influence and head-turning appeal reverberates 42-years on a par with the finest Beatles AM offerings. An example of his pervasive influence is unique acclaim on Blood Sweat & Tears 1967 debute LP wherein on can read of a credit to John Simon on Mendes piano surely a notation lost on many casual LP buyers.
As for his A&M debut, Mendes offers up a beautiful, nearly-flawless, excursion into that dreaded nightclub land of piano/bass/drum trio + female vocalist. Just like it took Englishmen, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, to modernize (American) rock n roll, it took a Brazilian to inject gripping, heartfelt, musical elements into an otherwise laughably lightweight, crappyass (American) piano bar / lounge scene. And in both cases US audiences got back wayy more than expected: Paul & John spearheaded modern pop songwriting and Sergio delivered artistic arrangements that turned creepy piano bar band excursions into a showcase for art. Yes, some people actually do go to bars in search of music beyond the usual 3-chord blues twaddle.
Apparently there are three different females pictured on the LP jacket. (Lani Hall, of course; with on the rear cover, Janis Hansen; the front cover reportedly sports Bibi Vogel. The scuttlebutt is that only Lani sang on the LP; Bibi was no longer in the group, but I guess A&M wouldnt pay for another fancy-dancy cover shoot, merely to exhibit the new backup vocalist.) Featuring one vocalist on every song tends to steer the LP into the vocalist realm and away from a group LP. The balance of the quintet, in addition to Sergios piano and supporting voice, includes Jose Soras (percussion and support vocal), Joao Palma (drum kit), Bob Matthews (double bass, support vocal). Sergios piano style comes across more akin to an arranger than a pianist giving the feel that with each take, his voicings and rhythms are vulnerable to continuous change (most likely a result of American jazz influence). This complements well with the groups finest musician Bob Matthews. Bobs subtlety graceful yet strongly rhythmic double bass technique is worth the price of admission alone. He was a true find for the group. Adding another dynamic is Sergios rhythmic foil drummer, Joao Palma, whose explosive fills with the snare dis-engaged, yielding a timbale-feel characterize the debute LP in toto! Like most Brazilians, his technique on the trap set is unlike anything normally heard in North American (even 42 years later). For instance, the constant & 1 & 3 kick drum pattern at the expense of the typical strong 2 and 4 snare pattern (characteristic of mainstream US pop since the mid 30s); also notable is an absence of needless cymbal crashing when Joao crashes, it IS an explanation point! (Markedly different to the usual testosterone-induced bludgeoning his American and English rock drumming counterparts would shortly be executing.) Putting a Brazilian pop drummer against an American jazz bassist created a rich, singular sound. Matthews technique is so strong, that the addition of a second percussionist is genuinely needed to keep the balance tipped toward Rio. Uncommon, too, is the singing. Lani Hall phrases in an atypical way only to be oddly complimented by any combination of 1, 2 or 3 support male voices whose varying mixtures of accented/non-accented English pronunciation is quite captivating. Sergio mustve have fun arranging the instruments and vocal harmonies particularly knowing that such sounds were untapped at the time (just as Herb Alpert astutely exclaimed).
The only shortcomings on the LP would be the very short playing length and absence of original compositions as well as perceived production problems with the capturing of Bobs excellent double bass playing. However, given the stellar quality of this first LP, at this point, these criticisms are of no consequence.
Mas, Que Nada!. One of the all-time great singles. If nothing else, such a song revealed to the passive AM radio junkie that there was more to Brazilian music than the gentle bossa nova. From the opening intense piano figure to the odd-sounding pop vocal and uncharacteristic drum fills (in the context of 1966 pop) and the ultra-cool B section, this song is on fire. And so is the piano/bass/drum trio. Man! The original version, available on Jorge Bens debute LP Samba Esquema  is a must-have for all fans of this instant-memorable song. Timely covers by Dizzy Gillespie and Nancy Ames are notable, as well. A+
One Note Samba / Spanish Flea. An odd pairing if only memorable for attempting such an bizarre melodic juxtaposition. The One Note Samba performance is more rewarding as music just leaves one wanting THAT song sans the silly TjB-soundbite. Its a novelty at best; luckily is quickly over. (All subsequent excursions into quasi-vocalese/scatting would better this many times over.)
The Joker. A much better piece following the opening selection in fact, so strong is this piece, that programmed following Mas, Que Nada!, it fully carries the fury and energy of that number albeit in English. The scored male voice counterpoint is exciting and adds tension against the female lead; you cant miss Joaos climactic fills; and check out Bobs unique bass riff during the piano solo. Lanis powerful yet youthful voice slams this right into its unexpected, gentle end. Wow! What a friggin workout, baby! A+
Going Out of My Head. Lani owns this song. Am not even sure who originally recorded it, but this is the version for me. The arrangement and performance are also representative of just how exciting piano trio pop can be. A+
Tim Dom Dom. A good, succinct closer for side 1 showcasing Bobs excellent double bass playing (finally audible!). The bass leads on this sprite group vocal outing. (In deference to Ron Carter who always seemed to get the call for Brazilian gigs to my ears Bob Matthews displays a more genuinely Brazilian feel in his bass playing. I guess its who you know...)
Daytripper. The Brazilian treatment to Lennons rockin song about an ill-fated encounter gets a neat gender switch. Am not much on the hes a day-tripper..."section - too piano-bar-ish for me. On the other hand, the piano solo section, with Bob walking a swinging 4/4 against Joaos latin polyrhythm and Sergio somewhere in between (which, I guess is round about Panama) is yet another odd crash-boom-bang encounter of assorted musical elements.
Agua De Beber. And yet another inspired arrangement and performance...this group cant miss! Dig the motivating arrangement of the lead lines: Lani, group, trombone, group, trombone, group, Lani. Yeah, that ultra-smooth, punched-in trombone was a very nice touch.
Slow Hot Wind. I guess this would qualify as the first Lani Hall sultry ballad. To her credit, she sings it slooowww and hott and Im sure many hip male listeners were left smoldering like a charcoal briquette. The eerie single-note harpsichord was a genius stroke...and a song like this can only fade out in truly creepy minor | minor-augmented | minor6 fashion. A+
O Pato. The Duck was first introduced (in English) to American audiences on Jon Hendricks Salud! Joao Gilberto LP, recorded at the very beginning of the bossa/US invasion, in 1962. The lyrics are humorous.
Berimbau. As wonderful as Mas, Que Nada! is, it can be outdone. The price of admission alone is worth the searing arrangement and performance of Berimbau. All things considered, this is where pop music reaches 5-star perfection. That special inner circle where diamond-cut differences allow one to reap the hitherto unknown prized facets. In song, performance and arrangement, Berimbau is A++. It dont get any better than this.
With 2/5 of the LP sung in Portuguese and recognizable American pop fair done up Brazilian style, Sergio appeared to have found a pop modus operandi of sorts for his new groups debute LP or a least an uncharted musical springboard from which to take a dive. In any event, the LP is a darn good compromise for the casual, curious, and connoisseur alike. Further, the high abundance of excellent music gives the LP nearly the feel of a Best Of issue; and after only 10 songs and 25 minutes of music, the listener is left wanting more. Much more. The listener will have to wait the usual six months for more.