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Sergio Mendes, Eddie Palmieri, Poncho Sanchez @ Hollywood Bowl 7/9/09

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Photo by Mick O Says So onflickr.

For the second time intwo weeks, the Hollywood Bowl experienced a spontaneous breakout of Carnaval as Brazillian legend Sergio Mendes and his band polished off a night of intoxicating rhythms by inviting a troupe of female dancers into the crowd to shake out some of their own. This colorful presentation - the primary color on display being "skin" - was enough to make one concerned parent cover her awestruck ten-year old's eyes with her hands. The rest of us sat back and watched, thankful that there were no fireworks this particular night at the Bowl, as they might have distracted from the explosive booty-shaking taking place in the front boxes.

But for the nearly three hours leading up to that moment, the stage had been occupied by serious musicians playing a multitude of musical styles with rhythmic orgin in Latin and South America, often applied to American jazz standards: So Cal resident and master conguero Poncho Sanchez covered Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver and even Parliament-Funkadelic, while Puerto Rican piano titan Eddie Palmieri's New York crew offered a ferocious rip through Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud."

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The two sets exemplified the contrast between East and West Coast approaches to Latin jazz. While Sanchez's group is certainly impressive, with energy to spare when called for, their opening set seemed to typify the kick-back Californian's take. They're smooth without being saccharine, and provided the perfect summer soundtrack for the arriving picnickers, keeping the pot bubbling along at a simmer.

Palmieri turned it up to a rapid boil. Their sound was noticeably edgier, more hard-nosed, closer in style to the classic piano-driven Afro-Cuban jazz sound exemplified by Machito. His bass player gave the night's most memorable solo performance, a show-stopping display that could inspire a new respect for the very idea of the bass solo.

Mendes’ fusion of pop production styles into the compositions of A.C. Jobim made him one of the most resilient figures in the world of Brazillian music during the late 1960s, and he’s continued to stretch and mutate the form for the last forty-five years. The last time Mendes appeared at the Bowl, in 2006, he was touring behind his hip-hop collaboration Timeless, and about a third of the program was given over to a string of rappers, including Q-Tip. The musical rewards were a mixed bag at that show, and the rap segment had started to rub the traditional-minded audience the wrong way by the time it hit the fifteen-minute mark. (Though they shut right up when Herb Alpert and original Brazil 66 singer Lani Hall took the stage for a few songs.)

These days, it’s back to the classics, for the most part. He’s described his latest album Encanto, which includes three Jobim compositions, as bringing him “full circle,” good news for the folks who want to hear it like they remember it. Rapper H20 is still in the band, though his few brief appearances were dispersed throughout the set so overload never set in. Most of the night was devoted to straight-ahead runs through sunny Brazil 66 classics like Berimbau, Agua de Beber, and Mas Que Nada, his band sounding remarkably tight and energized, his trio of singers re-creating that signature unison vocal blend with amazing precision. Of the three times I’ve seen Mendes live, this was the most consistently upbeat and juiced, sparing most of the ballads and cutting most of the solos to a minimum. Luckily, his percussionist Jibi did indulge us with a virtuosic tambourine solo that had jaws dropping, a demonstration of what can be done when the most unassuming instrument is placed in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it.

The aforementioned Extravadancers, appearing for the Grand FInale on the walkway above the Pool section in a rainbow of glittery plumes hanging from their backs and not much else, got some mouths hanging open themselves, though not for rhythmic complexity. Back to basics, indeed.