How does a twentysomething Los Angeleno, one of the most dynamic and inventive artists in rap, find himself rubbing rhythmic elbows with a septuagenarian Brazilian legend who was once a mainstay of suburban hi-fi's from coast to coast? The path to their crosscultural, crossgenerational union winds back to the early '90s, when a musically curious teen who would become will.i.am, cornerstone of the Black Eyed Peas, used Sergio Mendes' "Slow Hot Wind" to build his first tune. Fast-forward about a decade and a half, with Will inviting Mendes to play piano on one track, "Sexy," from the Peas' multiplatinum Elephunk. Now the invitation has been returned, with Mendes, leading his first disc in eight years, welcoming Will as producer and coperformer.
Be prepared: This ain't your mother's "Mas Que Nada." Instead, Will leads a guest-star parade that, grand and glorious as Carnaval, includes Jill Scott, india.arie, Justin Timberlake, John Legend and Stevie Wonder. The results are nothing short of splendiferous, ranging from the California cool of Legend's "Baby Please Don't" to the lush warmth of india.arie on the title track, the soft edges of Scott's "Let Me" and the haunted urgency of Timberlake's soaring plea for peace, "Loose Ends." Understand, though, such high-wattage participants notwithstanding, it is Mendes who is the album's backbone--his piano work forming the solid centerline that assuredly, passionately defines every joyous bump, crevice and curve.