Sérgio Mendes
The Swinger From Rio

1964 / 1966





At the infancy stage of pianist, composer and bandleader Sérgio Mendes’ career, he already imposes an unquestionable talent on the piano. In order to impress contemporary listeners though, he needs a super weapon, the kind of genius that sells Jazz records and Easy Listening amaranths easily and ad infinitum: enter guitarist and composing luminary Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927–1994) whose mere presence ought to be enough to rev up the excitement level a notch or two. The exotic eleven-track epitome The Swinger From Rio is therefore quite reliant on Jobim’s collaborative talent and mentions this very fact on the fir-green front artwork in bold yellow letters.


Recorded in December 1964 in New York but held back till December 1966 where it is finally released on Atlantic Records, The Swinger From Rio features a septet and many an imaginative composition by Jobim, making the delay of this earthbound gem a curious question from both a marketability and aesthetic viewpoint. Featuring Mendes on the classical piano, Art Farmer and Phil Woods on the alto saxophone, flügelhorn and flute next to dedicated flutist Hubert Laws, drummer Chico DeSouza, bassist Tiao Neto and, of course, Antonio Carlos Jobim on the guitar, the first quasi-solo record of Sérgio Mendes is quite the exotic affair due to its distinctly acoustic instruments. No electric piano or synthetic bass ever appears, making it a wonderful vintage diamond to feast on.


Mendes’ swinging homeostasis kicks off with Carlos Lyra’s and Vinicius De MoraesMaria Moita, a particularly steamy Jazz vestibule which emits the atmosphere of an umbrageous cellar in the heart of Rio. Mendes himself leads on the piano, Art Farmer and Phil Woods ennoble the lactic florets with vapored ventricles. The mucoid density is much lessened on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Sambinha Bossa Nova whose laid-back crimson skies are freely floating; the perceived open airiness is further evoked by the harmonious leptons of Mendes’ keys. Harmonies and memorable chord progressions are the dominant forces here, making this take a great cascade for Exotica listeners.


While Durval Feireira’s and Mauricio Einhorn’s Batida Diferente offers the radiance of a perianth ditty complete with Chico DeSouza’s floral drums and Hubert Laws’ frilly flutes in the limelight, Jobim’s and De Moraes’ adjacent So Danco Samba emanates plasmatic saxophone bursts and wonderfully whitewashed magentotails piano-wise. Mendes’ own Pau Brasil then comprises of a gorgeously luring polarimetry whose effulgence carves out both the evening flute and ultramafic backing chords before Antonio Carlos Jobim’s and Norman Gimbel’s evergreen The Girl From Ipanema rounds off side A with a particularly easygoing fluid-processed arrangement. Tiao Neto’s double bass sinews function as the fundament for the Art Farmer’s prospering flügelhorn. The piano is occasionally off-key, thereby augmenting the strength of the catchy main melody further.


Side B opens with Jobim’s faux-harsh song called Useless Panorama, but what it lacks in sensitivity title-wise, it gains in empathy throughout the runtime. Milky saxophone pyroxenes float through a particularly minimal perapsis. The soundless interstices are never caulked, making the reciprocation between sound, sustain and silence a high-plasticity effort, whereas Jobim’s and Gene LeesThe Dreamer succumbs to vermillion-colored saxophone magnetotails whose dazzling omnipresence is a force to reckon with, outshining every other instrument qua its ionic superresonance. Carlos Lyra’s second appearance comes in the shape of Primavera, quite the flute-focused – and therefore exotic – lilt made of fragile piano polymers and quiescent double bass mirages.


Meanwhile, Baden Powell’s Consolação hails the eponymous district of São Paulo by translating its bustling scenery into orthorhombic piano vitalism complete Jobim’s guitar granuloma amidst Chico DeSouza’s silvery hi-hats. It is the guitarist who comes up with the finale: Favela is a semi-doleful fluvio-lacustrine galactosamine with a laissez-faire afternoon aura and the omission of any perturbation whatsoever, maintaining the album’s oneiric gauze until the very end.


Sérgio Mendes early works are driven by – as well as dependent on – jazzier adventures alright; eclecticism is in the air, but it is the good kind that prospers throughout the album. Never ostracizing a good melody nor exchanging a polyphonic bridge for overly sophisticated segues, The Swinger From Rio is ipso facto still reliant on chance amid the clear-cut prowess. An album that features the great Antonio Carlos Jobim as the primary guitarist is certainly a standout work in the greater scheme of things and with all exotic ephemera considered, but even the presence of the composing legend notwithstanding, Mendes manages to enchant with a down-to-earth, rhizomatic sound based on the rich alluvial soils of Brazil.


The septet is in a good mood, expelling aggression and art house mannerisms in favor of a mercilessly melodic phototropism that leaves room for traces of melancholia. Whether it is contemplative gazes over beaches as in Sambinha Bossa Nova or faithful interpretations of eternal classics à la The Girl From Ipanema, The Swinger From Rio reigns. Vintage Exotica fans who despise electronic devices for whatever reasons, this is the chance to inhale a vivacious dose of Brazilian reticulations without the 70’s Funk fuss. Available on vinyl, remastered CD’s, download versions as well as streaming services.


Exotica Review 465: Sergio Mendes – The Swinger From Rio (1966). Originally published on Feb. 29, 2016 at AmbientExotica.com.