Sergio Mendes has in some form or other been a huge part of my core appreciation for music. And the knowledge of his continuing musical journey only continues to grow with the me over the passage of time. Equally adept at coming out with some of the greatest Brazilian jazz instrumentals around to interpretations of American pop hits, Sergio’s Brazil 66 and Brazil 77 carried his music from the swinging 60’s on into the funky 70’s. The songs of Burt Bacharach gave way to the songs of Stevie Wonder in terms of their interpretations. And with a whole new generation of new,musically inventive songwriters coming out in the mid/late 70’s,the landscape only grew more fertile for Sergio.
It was musician/DJ Nigel Hall who turned me onto the music of Sergio Mendes & The New Brazil 77. This lineup included jazz/funk greats such as Nathan East,former Mothers Of Invention keyboardist Ian Understood and guitarist Michael Sembello-at the time fresh from working on Stevie Wonder’s iconic Songs In The Key Of Life. The 1977 self titled debut for the New Brazil 77 turned out to be the first and final release from this particular lineup of Sergio’s band. It included the participation of Wonder himself and a couple of tracks he wrote specifically for this album. One song that stands out strongly for me is an instrumental entitled “Mozambique”.
A skipping,throbbing 4/4 rhythm accented by a descending Brazilian funk whistle gets the groove started. The one stays together very strong on this groove-holding down Watt’s phat slap bass bottom and the thick guitar and synthesizer harmony that defines the melodic core of the affair. Co-composer Sebastian Neto’s percussion keeps keeps the beat progressive and strong the whole way. On the songs refrains,the slap bass is singled out a lot more while Sembello’s guitar and the synthesizer engage in some subtle call and response interaction. On the last of these refrains,the slap bass descends upward continually while reaching back to the main groove that plays until the song fades away.
One thing I’ve noticed in hearing music by people such as Flora Purim and Sergio Mendes here that was made in Brazil at the height of the disco era is how thoroughly funkified it is. This entire song is based completely on rhythm-emphasizing Brazilian music’s total Afrocentricity. The percussion and drum line behave every bit as one polyrhythmic pulse. The Afro-Brazilian vocal chant provided by the musicians also keeps the song in tune with full on rhythm. Every time I think about Sergio Mendes and his music, it’s this song that comes to mind as some of the most powerfully funky he made during his late 70’s period. And catches onto the Stevie Wonder vibe by virtue of spirit and participation.