Brazilian music legend Sérgio Mendes strode onto the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall stage flashing his megawatt smile, broadly waving his arms as a signal for the audience to join him in the clapping, and proving that time travelers don’t age.
And, indeed, a time traveler is what Mendes is. All he and his band had to do was strike a few notes, and his audience was instantly transported to the 1960s, where they dwelled happily for much of the show.
It was back then that Mendes rocketed to music stardom with “Herb Albert Presents: Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66,’” his debut album, with, which its beguiling South American sway, helped to usher in the bossa nova era.
Despite the passage of the half-century, both the famed Brazilian bandleader and his music seemed young and fresh, as they catapulted through their 18 song set list in a concert on Friday, April 12, that wrapped up the 11th season of Miami’s Jazz Roots concert series.
Setting the note for the energetic concert to follow, Mendes’ band swung into the Brazilian funk sounds of his 1992 song “Magalenha,” but the love fest really got going when, with his second number, he announced, “I’m going to take you back a few years, to Brazil 66,” and launched into his hit song, “Pretty World.” Indeed, it was that classic tune, which set the audience swaying.
He followed with another “Brasil ‘66’ hit, “Waters of March.” If you really want to see how far back these years actually go, check out the YouTube, and you’ll find a grinning young Mendes holding a radio up to each ear--rest assured, the Friday night version was virtually identical.
A clear reason for that skill in duplication on has to do with the Mendes’ arrangements, which include the sound of the drums that replicate the breeze wafting through the Brazilian jungles, the silvery chimes of the flute, and, above all, the sound of an enchanting pair of female vocalists harmonizing.
And the thread that connects these decades is not only Mendez, who fills in on vocals whenever needed, and spent the evening working is keyboard, but also Gracinha Leporace. Although he introduced her to the audience simply as “that girl from Ipanema,” the gently swaying Leporace is also Mendes’ famous singer wife, who worked alongside him for decades. She, along with Californian singer-songwriter Katie Hampton, performed on several numbers throughout the concert.
Mendes chose his next number, “Ela E Carioca,” and used that not only for his shout out to the Miami audience (“I have no idea why I don’t live here,”) but also to begin a string of numbers showcasing individual members of his band.
And the first was veteran musician, composer and singer Scott Mayo, whose 30 years in the business stretches back to the days of “Earth, Wind and Fire,” and who now acts as Mendez’s music director and writer as well. He’s also a versatile musician, who switched effortlessly back-and-forth between saxophone and flute throughout the evening.
Mayo exemplifies one of the best reasons to go to a Jazz Roots concert, which is that the stars that are legends surround themselves with topnotch talent that could — and, in many cases —have filled their own large concerts.
A prime example of this deep talent bench is innovative percussionist
Marcos Dos Santos, aka “Gibi,” who has worked with Mendes for years, including on the animated film “Rio,” for which the bandleader won an Academy Award. His number on this night, “Promessa/Perimb,” which, stretched over several minutes, building and receding like waves on a shore, held the audience enthralled.
According to Mendes, the reason for his career longevity is that he never hesitates to change up the band with new faces, and new styles. “A new band brings a lot of new energy,” Mendes told “SF Gate,” a few years ago, as he introduced his latest addition, Oakland rapper Harrel Harris, aka H2O.
Harris obviously stuck, because he was front-and-center during the second half of this concert, jumping across the stage with his mic, especially for the number, “Mas Que Nada,” which was Mendes’ signature song with “Brazil 66,” and then was remade in 2006 with the Black Eyed Peas, hitting the charts again.
But before that mega charged rendition, it was back for another helping of nostalgia, which Mendes started off with his famous version of “Fool on the Hill,” which he had introduced originally in 1968. This was sandwiched between two dreamy numbers featuring the lush vocals of Leporace and Hampton — “Going Out of My Head,” from the “Brasil ’66” days, pairing it with Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love,” which became a hit for Mendes after he performed it in 1968 on the Academy Awards telecast in 1968.
Every top-notch “legends” concert needs a top-notch opening act, and this concert found that in the “Rodriguez Brothers,” aka as The RodBros Band. Grammy nominated for Best Latin Jazz, this five-member band featured brothers Michael Robert, and Ricardo Rodriguez, who were raised in Miami, rounded out by bassist Carlos Hernandez and percussionist Samuel Torres. Formed in 2002, the band, which plays worldwide at jazz festivals and clubs, and have produced four critically CDs, and their new recording, “Impromptu” earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz. With their fusion of Afro-Cuban, South American and jazz, they proved a perfect lead-in for the concert to follow.
Jazz Roots just announced next season's lineup. The Jazz Roots JAZZ 2019-2020 season in the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. Get more info at https://www.arshtcenter.org/Tickets/Subscriptions/Jazz/Jazz-Roots-2019-20/
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