Zen & the Art of Record Reviewing.
Sergio Mendes: Timeless
I think I’ve previously mentioned my interest in significance of the listener’s contribution to the measurement of the quality of a piece of music. It really does matter what state of mind and perception one finds oneself in when first hearing or reviewing a record. This disc is a prime case in point.
When I first heard the Sergio Mendes’ new versionof the old single Mas Que Nada, I was quite excited – I remembered the 1960s hit and thought – Yes, it’s about time we had a revival of the Herb Alpert/Sergio Mendes brash style of Latin Jazz.
I remembered quite a lively sound that, whilst largely conforming to a middle of the road sort of respectability, exhibited an exciting exoticism and perhaps slightly risqué aspect that made it sufficiently different to stir latent desires in a young man to an extent that he was transported into fantasies of feathered ladies sexily shimmying in ecstatic celebration of Mardi Gras or Voodoo worship.
So when I got hold of the LP – I still cherish that as a term even now in the [dying?] age of the CD – I was pleased with the cover art, which depicts the head a young Sergio set against a starburst background rather in the mode of a fifties or sixties postage stamp showing a tin-pot South American dictator in quasi-religious beatification. But, on hearing it, I was disappointed to say the least. And this was largely due to my own limited and misguided expectation built up in anticipation of hearing this album. But it turned out to be nothing more than a modestly jazzy rapped-up attempt to make some rather mainstream modern 21st Century R’n’B a little bit more appealing by setting it against a Latin-American landscape – and not an Afro-Cuban one at that…………
…….I am currently on vacation in no-so-sunny South Devon. In anticipation of some less than ideal holiday weather, I brought a modest pile of CDs, firstly for my own entertainment and secondly with the idea that I might clear a bit of the backlog of promos I have received for review, thus assuaging some of my accumulated guilt for being so lax in letting them lie about unattended.
With no particular intention of any sort other than the intention of remaining moderately relaxed and noticing that the majority of records I’d brought were a bit too stimulating for early listening on a grey cold drizzly Devon morning, I picked up Timeless by Sergio Mendes, slung it on the Beatbox and was instantly blown away by the subtle rhythmic variety of this brilliant record.
Sure, it’s ultra-cool – not the hot-stuff I’d been looking for, but Wil.l.iam of the Black-Eyed Peas, whose face angelically beams out from the back cover of the CD as he stands Vicar-like, hands in prayer, has done a magnificent job in producing the album and bringing Sergio’s sound bang up-to-date forty years after its heyday. By importing a selection of voices, including Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, John Legend and Stevie Wonder to name but a few of the best known, he has brought a wide variety of modern styles into contact with a more traditional one to marvellous effect. And he has performed the supreme act of wisdom in book-ending the album with two absolutely stunning tracks – it opens with the wonderfully updated version of Sergio’s signature Mas Que Nada and closes with the absolutely marvellous Black-Eyed Peas style Yes, Yes Y’All, which I defy you not to sway your hips to.
This whole sorry tale illustrates perfectly why one should not dismiss a record on first hearing and to certain extent highlights the dilemma of the record reviewer – time restraints generally limit the amount of attention one can give to any particular new disc and so much depends what mood the record catches you in. I guess, as a corollary, it follows that a record immediately striking one as the bee’s knees may be nothing more than instant cheap gratification and it equally requires repeated listening to make sure one way or the other.
If I’d adhered indefinitely to my original reaction to this CD, I never would have got to appreciate what must be one of the best records of the New Millennium so far. I suggest that if you’ve ignored it to date, you should get hold of a copy and give it a few spins – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the great range of cool sounds emitting from your sound system and weedling their sweet ways around the windmills of your mind.
Looking forward to the follow up and hoping even more new ground will be broken – perhaps even complete with wild Latin ladies writhing in ……..(Dream On!)