In 2006, will.i.am helped reinvent classic Brazilian samba/bossa nova pioneer Sergio Mendes with the release of Timeless, after a ten year absence from the artist. Bringing out some of the biggest and best names in the industry to help modernize his sound, Timeless had an extensive guest list, including The Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Q-Tip, Black Thought, Chali 2na, Pharoahe Monch, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, and Mr. Vegas, among others. The result was a surprisingly dope LP that resonated with a lot of people, finding it’s way into various commercials and other media.
Two years later, Sergio and will.i.am have joined forces again to team up for Encanto (translated means “charm” or “loveliness”), a joint venture between will.i.am Music Group, Concord Records, and…wait for it…. Starbucks! Yes, Starbucks is determined to save the music industry by playing this album on their stores all day long until unsuspecting soccer moms ask “hey, what is this?” and buy the CD on the spot. But, taking that into account, this time things are different. Either the budget is lower, Sergio wants to stick to his roots a little more, or Starbucks doesn’t want potty-mouthed rappers on their products, but Encanto isn’t nearly soiree the that Timeless was.
That doesn’t necessarily mean its not a good party, just a lot of the cool people didn’t show up this time. Will takes a back seat to production values this time, as the ball is more in Sergio’s court, collaborating more with artists of his own genre than those of hip-hop and R&B. Will does have four contributions, but with hit and miss results. “The Look Of Love” has been done many times over the past forty years, so Fergie’s new rendition is contrived and nothing special, starting the album off on a bad note (literally, Ferg!). “Funky Bahia” fares better however, as Will’s moving, acoustic drum driven track helps animate former Michael Jackson/Brand New Heavies collaborator, Siedah Garrett’s, festive vocals. Will also contributes to the album’s final pair of tracks, “Acode”, featuring popular Brazilian vocalist Vanessa Da Mata and “Agua De Beber”, featuring Will himself. “Acode” is a funky-yet-atmospheric up-tempo jam sung completely in the native tongue, and it works. “Agua De Beber” finds Will on top a set of Sergio’s pianos, while Will recounts the story of how the collaboration came to be.
As far as tracks produced by Sergio’s own hand, the results are also a bit hit and miss. The first of these is the vibey “Waters of March”, where New Orleans vocalist Ledisi gets ultra-descriptive over Serg’s funky rhodes 73 keys and layers of percussion. More native to his land is “Odo-Ya”, which pulls no punches as Carlinhos Brown goes full force, abandoning any attempt at modernizing or Americanizing Sergio’s signature sound. Much of the rest of the album follows in this direction, while other tracks allow Sergio to enchant his female listeners with more romantic selections like “Dreamer” (feat. Lani Hall & Herb Alpert) or “Catavento” (feat. Gracinha Leporace). Surely you’ve heard of them?
Make no mistake, this is a world music record, not a pop record like Timeless. But, while the big names of Timeless made for some great collaborations that of which made it easier for the average listener to grab onto, Encanto is a slower build. But if Timeless got you open, and you yearn for some more of that Brazilian funk that only Sergio can deliver, this is worth checking out, despite its minor inconsistencies. – Pizzo
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