Concert Hall, April 8
I once attended a Peter Sarstedt concert (yes, really), and of course the entire audience was only there to hear Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)? to the extent that, had he played it first rather than last, everyone would probably have bolted after one song. Pianist Sergio Mendes was never just a one-hit wonder, but the rapturous response that greeted Mas Que Nada suggested that he was wise to hold it back until the end.
Mendes is a rare bird in having a hit with the same song twice, and this Mas Que Nada mashed together the 1966 version that catapulted him to stardom with the 2006 incarnation that he hatched with the Black Eyed Peas, the rapping now convincingly handled by Harrell Harris Jr.
That Harris contributed to a handful of other tunes, including an effective Agua de Beber, showed Mendes’ commendable openness to reinventing his own material. Yet this sat oddly with a feeling that we were being served a very slick, slightly Disneyfied version of bossa nova. Virtually every song was efficiently short and slickly supple, so the music felt all gloss and little body, with percussionist Marco Dos Santos the only player to dig into something a little deeper.
Don’t get me wrong: the nine-piece band (of six Brazilians and three Americans) oozed the expected class, and the unison phrasing between singers Gracinha Leporace (Mendes’ wife) and Katie Hampton was nothing less than perfect. They could churn out a very groovy One Note Samba without raising a sweat, and it was a particular delight to hear once again Mendes’ nimble reimagining of Paul McCartney’s The Fool on the Hill. For every good song, however, there was at least once piece of middle-of-the-road drivel like Never Gonna Let You Go: songs with marshmallow hearts, faux emotions and brief, forgettable solos. In retrospect, perhaps Sergio always had some lapses of taste in pursuit of the hits. But, hey, we got Mas Que Nada, so everyone went home happy.