I was 15 in 1966 when one of my very few non-rock ‘n’ roll albums became essential. It was called Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 and I wore that sucker out. I had a little $10 toy record player. This guy my mom was dating, Arnie The Window Washer, bought it for me along with a few albums. That was one of them. I guess you can say it was the first world-music album I ever heard.
Brazil has its charm. Death metal band Sepultura comes from its jungles. Samba, though, comes from the city, Rio de Janeiro in particular. Aah Rio, playground for the wealthy…nude beaches…gambling…carnaval… bossa nova…salsa…Antonio Carlos Jobim…and Sergio Mendes.
48 years after that groundbreaking album comes Magic (Okeh) and Mendes, with the help of Janelle Monae, Will.i.am, John Legend, Milton Nascimento and Seu Jorge, has fashioned a modernistic take on a musical tradition that started in the 1860s.
Mendes—pianist, composer, bandleader, vocalist, producer—rides herd over his large international cast recorded in California, Salvador and Rio. He’s a master melodist. Genre-wise, be it hip-hop, funk, soul, pop, balladry or folk, he’s always stamped it with a singular devotion to his legendary Brazilian predecessors. So just as his 1984 Confetti became the Olympic Games anthem that year, and his Pele served as the soundtrack to the biopic of a legendary soccer player, Magic contains the closing “One Nation,” used at the World Cup this year.
And that’s just the tip of a particularly deep iceberg. You would be doing yourself a favor by putting a little Magic in your life. Mendes is forever.
Cold Revival (Big Kid), by upstate New York singer/songwriter Matt Turk, is a folksy delight of acoustic beauty. Its concerns deal with peace, loss, love and idealism in a world saturated with pessimism. Dude’s got a gorgeous baritone and plays guitar, mandolin and dobro. He’s got some pretty talented friends too: the kind of guys who collectively have played in the touring and/or recording bands of Sting, Aerosmith, Sheryl Crow and Good Charlotte.
Produced by Hollywood movie director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), it’s an instantly likeable song cycle with some brilliant moments. “Cracked Egg” is an angry Celtic rocker. “Midnight On The Water” is a mere 1:26 of sprightly mandolin pickin’ taught to him by his teacher, Barry Mitterhoff, a jazz-grass pioneer long before he joined Hot Tuna. “Battle Song” is a blunt stab in the neck to an ex-lover (“I used to dream about you, now I just want to kill you.”) The title track, besides its unique cello/dobro solo, is a font of wisdom in these confusing times (“caught between the crossfire of extremists, there’s no middle anymore”). Ain’t that the truth!
Turk used to share stages with folk icon/American hero Pete Seeger [1919-2014] and learned his lessons well. He also learned from producer Phil Ramone [1934-2013] who took him under his wing when both were in the studio with Phoebe Snow [1950-2011].
He still hosts the jam tent at Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival every year and he’s been “Resident Musician” at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan. There’s plenty of reasons to like this guy: his voice, his multi-instrumentalism, his concerns, his three great teachers and now his Cold Revival.
Originally released in 1980 on Verve, Joe Henderson’s Mirror Mirror (MPS) is a landmark recording as its leader is in fine form on tenor sax with pianist Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins, masters all. These five originals, two each by Corea and Carter and one by Henderson, meld well with its only cover, “What’s New” (the 1939 Benny Goodman Orchestra hit). With crystal clarity, this moment-in-time is only one of dozens of great titles from this amazing German label that’s promising to bring its product stateside shortly: The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Count Basie & His Orchestra, Stephane Grappelli & The Diz Disley Trio, Alphonse Mouzon, the Hank Jones Trio, Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra and a ton more. Stay tuned.