World & Latin

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Brazilian Magic

22 FEB 08 JOHN C. BRUENING

More than four decades into his prolific career, Brazilian pianist and bandleader Sergio Mendes continues to reinvent himself by merging his traditional Latin jazz and pop sensibilities with rap, hip hop, funk and a range of other contemporary grooves. His latest offering, Encanto is the logical and worthy follow-up to his acclaimed 2006 opus, Timeless.

Recorded in Rio and Bahia with a multi-layered and flawless percussion section, the recording features numerous guests from just about every hemisphere: Juanes (Colombia), Carlinhos Brown and Vanessa da Mata (Brazil), Zap Mama (Belgium), Dreams Come True (Japan) and Jovanotti (Italy). Will.i.am, Herb Alpert and Natalie Cole are among the guests representing the U.S.

Encanto is a study in musical and cultural diversity -- one that evokes remote tropical settings and sweltering urban streets at the same time. The leadoff track is a highly rhythmic reinterpretation of the Burt Bacharach hit "The Look of Love" (first recorded by Mendes in the mid-'60s), featuring Fergie on vocals, with some suggestive new lyrics grafted onto the originals.

Other noteworthy entries include Jobim's classic "Waters of March," with vocals by New Orleans-born chanteuse Ledisi, riding atop a subtle but persistent backbeat and accented with techno-flavored keyboard lines. "Dreamer" emphasizes melody over rhythm, with wistful trumpet lines by Alpert and warm vocals courtesy of Lani Hall (Alpert's wife and a vocalist from Mendes' original band, Brasil '66).

If the title suggests enchantment, then Mendes' has hit the mark. There's something magical and alluring about his latest cross-cultural exploration.