In Person At El Matador // Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’65 ( Atlantic SD 8112)

Much has happened since I last did something on this here humble blogsite (new job, new state), but what hasn’t happened is bossa nova. Considering it’s nearly the end of summer, this is all the more egregious. In light of this serious situation, here’s a tasty little album of bossa nova from one of the greatest to ever do it and, in 2020, continue to do it – Sergio Mendes. And in keeping with the previous theme, it’s a live album. Enough from me; to the music!


The Music

The Tune: “Noa Noa”

Recorded: 1965 at the El Matador, San Francisco, CA

Personnel:

  • Sergio Mendes – Piano
  • Sebastião Neto – Bass
  • Chico Batera – Drums
  • Paulinho Magalhães – Percussion

The Tune: “Caminho de Casa”

Personnel:

  • Same as above

The Tune: “Samba do Astronauta”

Personnel:

  • Same as above, but add Rosinha de Valença – Guitar

The Tune: “Tem Do de Mim”

Personnel:

  • Same as above, but add Wanda de Sah – Vocals

Four songs? Yes, and believe me, you’ll want to hear each one of them. Well, that is if you don’t mind having these tunes stuck in your head for the next few days. Because that will happen. Sorry not sorry.

Before Sergio Mendes made a huge splash with his group Brasil ’66, he had a smaller aggregation that he formed in 1965 and named, appropriately enough, Brasil ’65. This group was more authentically Brazilian and unabashedly jazzy than the more pop-oriented Brasil ’66. As a result, this band found its leader at the piano and actually improvising with palpable exuberance. This authenticity was a direct result from the instrumentation (and the people using those instruments). Mendes’ Brasil ’65 was a sextet at its biggest and a quartet at its smallest. The unique, deep yet airy vocals of Wanda de Sah coupled with the fantastic guitar of Rosinha de Valença made for a powerful punch when backed by Mendes’ trio and percussionist. Everyone was a Brazilian import, and the music on these grooves proves it.

Taped live at the El Matador, a hip club in San Francisco, the group shines on this set that sates every mood with music ranging from vocal to instrumental features, fast, slow, joyous, melancholy, and everything in between. The first two tracks I chose to spotlight showcase Mendes’ piano. “Noa Noa” is a cleverly unorthodox tune with a catchy, hip melody and delicious chords to go with it. Written by Mendes, this tune went on to become something of a standard with Brazilian artists while being almost neglected by musicians Stateside (Cal Tjader, naturally enough, is one of the only examples of an American recording it). Incidentally, this is my personal favorite track from the whole album.

“Caminho de Casa” is another tasty tune featuring Mendes and rhythm section. Written by fellow Brazilian and fellow pianist Joao Donato, this neat little tune contains some of the most light-hearted playing on the record. Sidenote: Joao Donato recorded Mendes’ “Noa Noa” on his own album in 1965. Joao Donato. If you don’t know, check his music out.

“Samba Do Astronauta” starts innocently enough with a lovely intro by Rosinha on guitar, but she soon starts a rhythm and the bass and percussion come in behind her as she swingingly caresses the melody out the instrument. It’s a fantastic showcase for her and her un-amplified guitar. Lastly, “Tem Do de Mim” gets the whole group in on the action together. Mendes’ piano accompaniment is delightful, as is his brief solo, and Ms. de Sah’s vocals are a gas. I’m not well-versed in Portuguese, but I’d like to think the lyrics are rather upbeat.

So flows the album, capturing Sergio Mendes in a musically carefree and pure moment in his career, a year before he regrouped, rebranded, rehearsed, and received stardom. It’s a happy album, breezy like a summer’s day but one that sticks with you like the sunburn you get on a summer’s day.

The Album Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: C

I feel like, because there’s artsy original art, I’m supposed to be knocked over by it. And yet… Maybe its the business of it all. The multi-colored sides along with the colorful print, red background AND the artwork… there’s just a lot going on here. Mercy. The sad thing is it’s by a Brazilian artist who specifically dedicated the piece to Mendes. It deserved better.

The Back

Copious yet highly informative liner notes by jazz head Leonard Feather. If you’ve got an extra minute, I’d suggest that you read them. They’re a good read. Of course, they’d be easier to read had they been glued to the back straight. Some highlights include Feather’s bio on Mendes, his wonderfully dated yet pertinent observations on the bossa nova fad that was proving it wasn’t a fad at all, and his comment that “Caminho de Casa” was spiritually related to Vince Guaraldi.

The Vinyl

Atlantic Records’ stereo labels from the 1960’s are among my favorite record labels of all time. So simple, so crisp, so calming. This is an original pressing on pristine, lusciously black vinyl, no deep groove. The audio is equally pristine and life-like, thanks to on-location recording wiz and wunderkid Wally Heider. His live recordings are the best in the business, and I say that knowing full well that Rudy Van Gelder was concurrently in the business. Such clarity, such acoustic fidelity, such stereophonic presence. Amen and amen.

While we’re here, check out the inner sleeve that came with this album. I thought this was pretty clever.

I’m tempted to write my name on it, but I won’t.

The Place of Acquisition

Back in February of this wild year of 2020, I went to Atlanta to meet up with a group of new friends that I had met online on Instagram. Naturally, while we were there, we went digging for records. We dutifully went to Criminal Records in the heavily gentrified Atlanta neighborhood of Little Five Points. Criminal Records was true to form, with high prices and noisy vinyl (did I still buy a lot of records? You bet I did). After we parted ways with our money, we walked over to my favorite record store in Atlanta – Wax N Facts.

Ah, look at all of us, gleefully socially undistanced, unaware that everything would change a month later.

I always find great stuff at this humble record store, and always at fantastic prices. Among the gold I found this trip was this Sergio Mendes album. I had just discovered Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’65, so this find was exciting. The vinyl looked like my gum (minty fresh), Leonard Feather wrote the liners, and it was $8.00. I grabbed it and boy am I glad I did.

Here’s a picture of me and two of my jazz record collecting pals, in front of the infamous Criminal Records, post-purchases.

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