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Sergio Mendes with Eliane Elias at New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Ernest Barteldes By
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Jazz Meets Samba
Sergio Mendes with Eliane Elias, Lee Ritenour and Joe Lovano
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Newark, New Jersey
November 8, 2013

On a double-billed evening dedicated to the music of Brazil, pianist Eliane Elias kicked off the first set with an up-tempo take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Só Danço Samba" backed by her touring band, which was rounded out by Marc Johnson (bass), Mauricio Zottarelli (drums) and Marivaldo dos Santos (percussion). After that number, she was joined by Lee Ritenour (acoustic guitar) and went straight into "Chega de Saudade," played close to the arrangement on Elias' Bossa Nova Stories (Blue Note, 2009) without stretching much. Ritenour then spoke about his longtime relationship with Brazilian music and the different musicians he has worked with through the years, followed by a contemporary jazz take on "Water To Drink," a tune featured on his A Twist of Jobim (Polygram/EMusic, 1997), swinging it hard with extended solos from both Elias and Ritenour.

Elias then went on to mention Getz/Gilberto (Verve, 1965), the historic studio collaboration between Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. "Staying true to the spirit of that album," she said, Elias invited Joe Lovano on for a spirited take on "The Girl From Ipanema," in which the saxophonist played short riffs in response to Elias' vocals. Among the highlights was "Stone Flower," a more obscure Jobim composition with classical and northeastern Brazilian influences. That tune gave the musicians an opportunity to stretch, including a call-and-response solo between Dos Santos and Elias.

After a brief intermission, Sergio Mendes (vocal, Fender Rhodes) came on with his eight-piece band (reeds, drums, percussion, bass, guitar, vocals), beginning the set with an updated arrangement of "Waters of March," as featured on his Encanto (Concord, 2008) without being too creative with it. The group then followed directly to "She's A Carioca" (sung in Portuguese) and "The Girl From Ipanema."

Mendes repeated many of the tunes on Elias' set, but his arrangements were far more commercial, more in tune with the career revival that began with his collaborations with the Black Eyed Peas in 2006. Many songs featured rapper H2O, including a cringe-inducing version of Jobim's "Surfboard" in which the rapper did his improvisations over Mendes' piano solo. The set was not without its positive moments, especially when the group revisited tunes from Brazil '66 (A&M, 1967), including hits like his covers of Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada" and John Lennon & Paul McCartney's "The Fool on The Hill." The best part of the set came when vocalist Gracinha Leporace sang the lead vocal on Chico Buarque's "O Que Sera" as a soulful ballad. At the end of the show, percussionist Meia-Noite, Elias, Ritenour, Dos Santos and Zotarelli joined Mendes for a loose version of Ben's hit "País Tropical," a song that speaks of the wonders of being from Brazil.

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