Once ubiquitous in the territory where jazz traditionalists and questing rockers would meet to tap their feet, the husband-and-wife team of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim hasn’t been heard from all that much over the past decade. But on the first night of a highly anticipated stint at New York’s Blue Note, the couple showed few signs of rust — and fewer signs of willingness to rest on their laurels.
Billed as “a tribute to Milton Nascimiento,” the perf wasn’t designed to replicate the sound crafted by that Brazilian music legend, but to channel his spirit — a goal that was met largely through the unwaveringly passionate playing of Moriera himself.
The percussionist got the rhythmic juices flowing early, taking the stage alone to present a solo tour de force that served as a veritable travelogue of his homeland. Sitting behind his drumkit, but concentrating more on a wide array of hand percussion, Airto skittered from the urbane to the primal, punctuating the more intense Afro-Indian passages with hypnotic fugue-state chants.
While the rest of his bandmates attempted to match Airto’s intensity when called upon, none — save reedman Gary Meek — were able to do so with the leader’s finesse. Too often, trumpeter Claudio Roditi (who’ll be supplanted by guitarist Hiram Bullock for the last two dates of the band’s Gotham stand) and keyboardist Marcos Silva seemed to approach the perf like a strongman’s competition, working up quite a sweat towards debatable ends.
The mood changed palpably, however, when vocalist Flora Purim took the stage midway through the 80-minute set. Time has whittled a few notes — but only a few — from Purim’s fabled six-octave vocal range, yet her impeccable phrasing and infectious enthusiasm more than made up for that.
Singing primarily in her native Portuguese, Purim — who shimmied about the stage in a flowing top and leather pants — was equally at ease with uptempo material (such as Meek’s “Step Seven,” to which she added vocals that conveyed a comforting message that belied their wordlessness) and ballads.
She did, however, seem to put a bit more effort into the latter, particularly an ethereal take on Gil Evans’ “Moon Dreams.”
(Airto Moriera performs Aug. 2-3 at Studio City’s La Ve Lee.)