Sergio Mendes / Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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MASTER TAPE SOUND AND QUIET VINYL THROUGHOUT! Both sides are lively and transparent with super low distortion and lovely breathy vocals. The sound is Right On The Money all the way around — superb clarity, mind-blowing transparency and tons of dynamics. This copy is ALIVE! The drums and percussion are powerful and punchy with lots of room around them, and the bass is PERFECTION. There’s plenty of whomp and lots of extension on the top end. This side two really conveys a sense of the amazing performances of these great musicians. It’s rich, full, smooth, sweet, open, spacious — everything you’d expect from an A+++ / A+++ record.

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was close to twenty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the intervening decades.

We’re glad to see that our customers share our enthusiasm for the band; note that there is not a single good sounding used Mendes record on the site at present (September ’08). They all seem to have sold, and most of the Hot Ones flew out of here.

That Big Bruce Botnick Bottom End

The music is of course wonderful, but what separates Sergio from practically all of his ’60s contemporaries is the AMAZING SOUND of his recordings. The first album was recorded by the legendary Bruce Botnick, the man behind the superb recordings of The Doors, Love and others too numerous to mention. This, in my opinion, is his Masterpiece. The Doors albums Bruce recorded represent some of his best work, but what Doors album sounds as good as Sergio’s debut? I can’t name one.

One reason you have to hand the tallest trophy to Bruce for this album is that the arrangements are dramatically more complex here than in any comparable rock recording of the era. There are so many elements to juggle in the densest parts of the mix, with multiple lead vocal parts, often double-tracked; background vocals by Sergio and the girls coming from every location; keyboards, bass and drums; tons of percussion popping out all over the place — this is a rich tapestry of instruments and voices, stretching across the soundstage from wall to wall, with huge amounts of depth and layering from front to back.

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to allow the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. When you hear one of those copies, you have to give Botnick his due. The man knew what he was doing. (Larry Levine who recorded the subsequent albums was no slouch either. Stillness is one of the ten best sounding records I have ever played, and that’s no exaggeration.)

Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

On another note, with recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics = whomp) at the listening position. (There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.)

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind.

Discography by brasil66.com

1966 Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66

The Brasil ’66 debut album on A&M opens with a bang–“Mas Que Nada” was, and still is, one of Mendes’ finest recordings. Using a sparse combination of female vocalists, drums, piano, bass and percussion, this album was Brasil ’66 at its leanest. “One Note Samba/Spanish Flea” cleverly combines two popular songs, one of Bossa Nova fame, the other straight out of the Tijuana Brass catalog. Henry Mancini’s “Lujon” (from the excellent Mr. Lucky Goes Latin album) is given vocals and retitled “Slow Hot Wind”. “O Pato” and “Agua De Beber” cover a couple more tracks from the popular Brazilian repertoire, and the American popular scene is represented by “Going Out Of My Head” and “Day Tripper”. One of the more interesting tunes here is “Berimbau”, based on a Brazilian chant. (Interesting tidbit: “Mas Que Nada” has been misspelled, in perpetuity, as “Mais Que Nada” on Brasil 66 albums!)

1967 Equinox

This sophomore effort of Brasil ’66 covers a lot of the same ground as the first album. Most notable is the addition of guitarist John Pisano, from the Tijuana Brass. There are more excellent arrangements; the standouts are “Triste”, “Chove Chuva” and “Night and Day.”

1967 Look Around

Comprised of the same musicians as the first two Brasil ’66 album, there are a few new twists. The most prominent are the two Lani Hall showcases, “Like A Lover” and “So Many Stars”, both lightly sprinkled with strings. Other favorites include “Roda”, “Batucada”, the title track and the distinctly Mendes arrangement of “With A Little Help From My Friends”.

1968 Fool on the Hill

This album presents a second version of Brasil ’66, including the excellent Brazilian musicians Rubens Bassini, Sebastiao Neto and Dom Um Romao. The string arrangements were written by Dave Grusin. What’s different is the direction in which the music on this album took. Turning from pop music influences, these songs reflect more of the Brazilian heritage of the musicians, and are more adventurous as a result. The most-recognized arrangements from this album would be the two cover versions: “Fool On The Hill” and “Scarborough Fair”. In case you’re wondering what kind of “hill” the “fools” on the cover are sitting on, on the original LP gatefold jacket, take a closer look!

1969 Crystal Illusions

After the upbeat Fool On The Hill, Crystal Illusions seems quiet in comparison with such easygoing fare as “Viola” and “Song of No Regrets”. Milton Nascimento makes an excellent contribution with “Empty Faces”, and “Pretty World” has to be one of the most cheerful songs Brasil ’66 ever recorded. The album’s centerpiece is the pensive title track.

1969 Ye-Me-Le

“There are special moments, like the hypnotic “Masquerade” (no relation to the Leon Russell/George Benson hit), Sergio Mihanovich’s haunting “Some Time Ago,” and another winning treatment of a Beatles tune, “Norwegian Wood,” where Mendes cuts loose a killer solo on electric piano (believe it or not, the 45 rpm single version features more of that solo than the LP).”

1970 Stillness

A radical departure from anything that had gone before, Stillness remains the one album that Brasil ’66 fans either love or hate. Most complaints about it center on the fact that the familiar bossa sound of the earlier records was now mostly gone. Nonetheless, Stillness is arguably one of the most fluid albums of Mendes’ career. It takes its cue from the work of many of the singer/songwriters of the day (Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.), with thoughtful lyrics and often delicate arrangements. It is a almost a concept album, with the theme expressed in the title song — the words of which are even printed on the front cover — and an outdoorsy, peaceful feeling running through many of the other lyrics. Stillness is also Lani Hall’s final album with Mendes; she left the group during these sessions and was replaced by Gracinha Leporace, who does lead vocals on several songs.

Standout tracks include “Chelsea Morning” and “Viramundo,” both of which contain traces of the earlier Brasil ’66 sound; “Righteous Life” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” both of which reflect the mood of late ’60s America through their lyrics; and the very pretty “Sometimes in Winter,” featuring an elegant orchestral arrangement by Dick Hazard.

brasil66.com