A 1986 A&M album featuring a mix of Mendes' trademark Brazilian pop with vocals by Siedah Garrett and Joe Pizzulo, a traditional Brazilian styled tune "O Rio" (featuring the great Dori Caymmi on guitar and vocals), and a guest appearance by former Brasil '66 lead singer Lani Hall on "No Place To Hide".
After bouncing around Philips, Atlantic, and Capitol playing Brazilian jazz or searching for an ideal blend of Brazilian and American pop, Sergio Mendes struck gold on his first try at A&M (then not much more than the home of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and the Baja Marimba Band). He came up with a marvelously sleek, sexy formula: dual American female voices singing in English and Portuguese over a nifty three-man bossa nova rhythm/vocal section and Mendes' distinctly jazz-oriented piano, performing tight, infectious arrangements of carefully chosen tunes from Brazil, the U.S., and the U.K. The hit was Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada," given a catchy, tight bossa nova arrangement with the voice of Lani Hall soaring above the swinging rhythm section…
The sound and band that served Sergio Mendes well on Fool on the Hill remain intact on Crystal Illusions, with few modifications. Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever in Portuguese or English. Mendes remained on the lookout for fresh Brazilian tunes, and he came up with a coup, one of the earliest covers of a Milton Nascimento tune to reach North America, "Vera Cruz" (with Hall's English lyrics, it became "Empty Faces"), as well as Dori Caymmi's "Dois Dias."
This album is the second of the studio recordings by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 with A & M Records label, and is certainly one of the top of his production. Composers like Jorge Ben, Michel Legrand, Joao Gilberto, Cole Porter and Antonio Carlos Jobim bring creations that are splendidly arranged by Sergio Mendes, who can find fused arrangements between pop and jazz, wrapped by the great Brazilian rhythms, bossa nova and samba. Mendes offers a very personal sound, in which rhythm, melody and rich harmonies create a soft sophisticated atmosphere with its warm emotions.
Perhaps the Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 sound was at last beginning to show signs of wear, for not only didn't Ye-Me-Le produce any hits ("Wichita Lineman" reached a lowly number 95), but the album is also less enterprising and fresh-sounding than its predecessors. There is a surprising shortage of Brazilian material, which was always Mendes' most valuable contribution in the long run, and more reliance upon routine covers of pop/rock standards like "Easy to Be Hard" and "What the World Needs Now." But there are special moments, like the hypnotic "Masquerade" (no relation to the Leon Russell/George Benson hit), Sergio Mihanovich's haunting "Some Time Ago," and another winning treatment of a Beatles tune, "Norwegian Wood," where Mendes cuts loose a killer solo on electric piano (believe it or not, the 45 rpm single version features more of that solo than the LP).