Sérgio Mendes
Home Cooking






Pianist, composer and arranger Sérgio Mendes (born 1941) brewed his wildest concoctions in the 70’s; this is a superfluous statement that can be applied to many composers who reside at the core or near the periphery of Exotica’s vivacity, but a meaningful bonmot regardless that has to be kept in mind when an album of the 70’s pops up on the radar, as this implies one particular thing more often than not: Funk. It so happens that Home Cooking is a Funk album, but a decidedly silky and tame one. This is also implied by both its title and front artwork: after all, one’s kitchen is no wild jungle or endless steppe, I guess.


Home Cooking is released in 1976 on RCA and features Sérgio Mendes’ talent as a composer, pianist and keyboarder. Each of the ten featured compositions is written by him. He is accompanied by his loyal ensemble of 21 musicians and vocalists called Brasil ’77. In the limelight are undoubtedly the three lead vocalists Bonnie Bowden, Liza Miller and Marietta Araiza who deliver lyrics in plain English as well as the occasional Space-Age onomatopoeia. The saxophonists Don Menza and Hank Redd in tandem with trumpeters Oscar Brashear and Raymond Maldonado as well as trombonists Frank Rosolino and Raul De Souza are of equal importance. Finally, there are two players whose instruments are very important for Exotica fans: percussionist and drummer Paulinho Da Costa plays bongos, congas and Brazilian percussion devices while flutist and organist Hermeto Pascoal has a thing or two to say about the vintage factor and accidental (?) fleeting visits into Polynesian timbres. Here is, as expected, a closer look at Home Cooking, a work that shows the sultriness of the genre. Funk can be tame and domestic after all and still retain its rawness… if necessary.


How prosaic and astute the opener Sunny Day really is becomes apparent in the greater shape of things. Picayune and bog-standard it seems, for every Occidental listener on Earth has faced many similarly fashioned theme songs about the sun and a beautiful day, but Sérgio Mendes still manages to inject multitudes of Funk and exotic swing into the scenery, be it the English lead vocals of the three enchantresses, the silkened brass fanfares with only a pinch of dirt underneath them, Paulinho Da Costa’s cowbell-infused percussion or Maestro Mendes’ firefly synths. Dennis Budimir’s electric guitar is occasionally too much over the top, but an admittedly important constituent for the funkiness. Hey People, Hey then slows down the groove in order to oscillate between Gospel-oid handclaps and Space-Age la la la lyrics. The interstices and clefts in-between the claps allow for the manifold synthetic susurrations and delicately mucoid globs of electricity to shine through. Wah wah guitars and other pointillistic devices as well as Mendes’ electric piano hardly make this piece exotic, but certain specks and timbres might make this worth one’s while.


The following It’s So Obvious That I Love You is not distilled from a Barry Manilow LP, no worries, but has indeed a purple moiré all over it; the electric piano is almost veiled, the softness of the electric guitar veneers the atmosphere in tandem with the streamlined bongo groove, the latter of which is naturally the most welcome addition. The designedly muffled vocals? Not so much. Whereas Sérgio Mendes slows down the be(a)t yet again on Emorio and erects what I call an ode to the metropolitan stroll through heated-up sidewalks awash with sunlight that are strikingly ameliorated by Hermeto Pascoal’s insouciant flute tones and frequency-bent synthesizers, side A’s closer Shakara is an instrumental that shares its timbre with Steve Reid’s Passion In Paradise (1999). Shakara is supercharged with connected euphonies as emanated by electric pianos, laid-back beats, hidden maracas and brass bursts. All ingredients are equally distributed in the melting pot, no instrument towers above the other. Melodious and phantasmagoric, it is one of the strongest efforts on Home Cooking.


Where To Now St. Peter kicks off side B, a piano-oriented piece of over four minutes, but a tad too cinematic for my taste. The funk guitars and female vocalists are there alright, but the timbre reminds of a crossover between The Peanuts and The Beatles. This piece is melodious and somewhat catchy alright, but a letdown to AmbientExotica’s (intended but not exclusive) target group, as Exotica, Space-Age, even Funk are unavailable for the moment. Cut That Out resides in similar climes, but sports a boon in the shape of a swinging metropolitan aura and sleazy bass guitars, oh, and car horn organs! Gilberto Gil’s acoustic guitar offers the only rural bonfire element, with Hermeto Pascoal’s alto flute adding a paradisiac pinch to the punch.


While Tell Me In A Whisper lets the room glow in mauve-colored patterns qua its besotted saxes and lovestoned flute flumes whose clichéd superstructure is tone down by means of the surprisingly enchanting backing synths, It’s Up To You is Jamaican Lover’s Rock par excellence, torn between frequency gadgetries, interesting textures and melting ooh-ooh innuendos. Crystalline triangles and electric pianos should anneal hot-tempered machos enough. And it would be the best song of side B, were it not for the superb finale Home Cooking, an unexpectedly progressive and equally slow Funk critter with cavalcades of textures, polyphonic vocals and electric drums as well as the good ol’ congos. Every instrumentalist is on board and allowed to perform a short segue. This alone may seem gimmicky, but the cohesion of the finale is never in danger. This is Funk Exotica with a stressed first syllable, yet exotic regardless.


The sentence to end all Exotica reviews finds no use in the final paragraph: I cannot recommend Sérgio Mendes’ Home Cooking per se, not here on this site, not for Exotica fans in general and admirers of the vintage 50’s in particular. Having said that, there is much to rave about Home Cooking and its spicy ingredients, but again, this admiration is not mirrored by the focus of AmbientExotica. These gloomy thoughts notwithstanding, there are flamboyant ingredients thrown into the cooking pot, as Sérgio Mendes has fortunately released an album that takes from the synergies and even dichotomies of an exciting simultaneity of various styles that make the 70’s a wild decade. The bongo undercurrent, the occasional acoustic guitar as well as the superb flute work are things of the past and meet the equally fading big band alloy with its brass attacks and soothing counterparts.


The present and worthy future, at least during the moment the album is recorded, remains keen on Funk. Electric guitars, electric pianos, heck, electricity is everywhere and even fuels many a synthetic drum on this album. The vocals, meanwhile, are electrifying in lieu of being electric, and they are incredibly important for Home Cooking, appearing in nine out of ten compositions. The ladies’ slick and suggestive performances are often questionable, but once the synth walls are added to the cauldron, Sérgio Mendes’ album becomes a eupeptic choice for those listeners who define Exotica much broader and allow elements of various decades in their music. Home Cooking is available on vinyl, CD, as a digital download version as well as on streaming services.


Exotica Review 322: Sergio Mendes – Home Cooking (1976). Originally published on Mar. 8, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.