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Airto Moreira

An inventive master percussionist and drummer, Brazil's Airto Moreira (aka Airto) emerged in the early '60s playing samba, bossa, and Brazilian jazz. Moreira emigrated to the U.S. and issued influential solo albums including 1972's landmark Free, combining Brazilian traditions with modal jazz, funk, and fusion. After apprenticing with Cannonball Adderley, he joined Miles Davis' group for half-a-dozen landmark albums including Bitches Brew and On the Corner. He was a founding member of Return to Forever, played with fusion supergroup Weather Report, and has recorded with countless others, amassing nearly 1,300 credits. Since the early '70s, he's recorded dozens of albums alongside his spouse, the iconic Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim, including 1973's Fingers, 2001's Perpetual Emotion, and 2017's Aluê. In 2023, BBE issued the career retrospective Airto & Flora, A Celebration: 60 Years - Sounds, Dreams & Other Stories. Born in 1941 in Itaiopolis, Brazil, Moreira grew up in Curitiba where he began singing and playing percussion at a young age. By the time he was six years old he was already winning music contests and gaining renown in the process. He began hosting a local radio program and at age 13 played his first professional gig. At age 16 he moved to São Paulo and played drums and percussion, and sang with a variety of bands and well-known performers working the nightclub circuit and making television appearances. He made his recorded debut as a member of the pioneering samba outfit Sambalanço Trio along with pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano and bassist Humberto Clayber on 1964's Samblues. He also recorded with artists like Wanda Sá, Raul de Souza, and Hermeto Pascoal, among others. It was during this period that he fell in love with vocalist Flora Purim (they married in 1972) while working in Rio de Janeiro. In 1967, the couple moved to the United States, settling in New York City. There he befriended bassist Walter Booker who soon introduced him to a bevy of hard-hitting jazz luminaries including Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Paul Desmond, and Joe Zawinul. He was a member of the Adderley group. Through Zawinul, he landed the chance to play with Miles Davis on the landmark 1970 fusion album Bitches Brew, and remained with the trumpeter for the next two years, playing on such sessions as On the Corner, Live/Evil, and Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East. Following his time with Davis, he joined all-star fusion outfit Weather Report, at the same time that he and Purim joined the first incarnation of Chick Corea's Return to Forever, appearing on Return to Forever and Light as a Feather in 1972. One of the most in-demand performers of the fusion era, Moreira appeared on dozens of albums during the '70s, including such dynamic productions as Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay, Joe Henderson's In the Pursuit of Blackness, and Eumir Deodato's Prelude. He also gained attention beyond jazz circles, working with more pop- and R&B-oriented artists like Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Average White Band, and more. As evidence of Moreira's impact after moving to the United States, Down Beat magazine added a percussion category to its readers' and critics' polls in 1973 -- an honor which the drummer has earned more than 20 times since. As a leader, he made his debut with 1970's Natural Feelings, playing alongside his wife Purim, bassist Ron Carter, and longtime Brazilian associates Sivuca and Hermeto Pascoal. More albums followed with 1972's Seeds on the Ground and 1972's now classic Free, the latter of which arrived on CTI and featured brass arrangements by Don Sebesky, as well as contributions by Purim, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, and George Benson. All these albums found Moreira combining his love of Brazilian musical traditions with western funk, fusion, and modal jazz idioms. Similarly cross-pollinated albums followed throughout the '70s, including 1973's Fingers, 1975's Identity, and 1979's Grammy-nominated Touching You Touching Me. He also played on almost all of Purim's albums, including 1973's Butterfly Dreams, 1976's Open Your Eyes You Can Fly, and 1979's Carry On. Over the next decade, Moreira continued his prolific studio work, relocating to California and working with George Duke, Corea and Jarrett, as well as recording with Leon Ware, Paul Simon, Bobby Hutcherson, George Duke, and many more. He and Purim remained active leaders of their own groups, collaborating for 1985's Three-Way Mirror (with Joe Farrell) and 1986's The Magicians. Moreira also issued two albums on the storied Montuno label based in New York, including 1986's Aqui Se Puede and 1989's Samba de Flora. Moreira and Purim also joined Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart on several projects, including 1989's Däfos and 1991's Grammy-winning world music album Planet Drum, appearing alongside conga player Giovanni Hidalgo, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, Indian percussionist Vikku Vinayakram, and Nigerian percussion masters Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju. In 1992, Moreira and Purim joined Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra for the Grammy Award-winning concert album Live at the Royal Festival Hall. He returned to his own work with 1993's Killer Bees, which featured vocals and production by Purim, and contributions from Gary Meek and Hiram Bullock. Jump followed in 1995. Moreira and Purim also formed the expansive Fourth World ensemble, with José Neto on guitar, Gary Brown on bass, and Jovino Santos on keyboards and flute. There were also notable dates with Al Di Meola, Dianne Reeves, Carlos Santana, and several others. Along with performing, Moreira branched out into teaching in the 2000s, working as a professor at the Ethnomusicology department of UCLA. Nonetheless, he continued to record, issuing Homeless in 2000 which featured vocals from his and Purim's daughter Diana Moreira Booker. His daughter, who is married to Walter Booker's son percussionist/instrumentalist Krishna Booker, also appeared on 2003's Life After That. Around this time, in recognition of both Moreira and Purim's contributions to Brazil's international relations, the couple were inducted into the "Order of Rio Branco" by Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The percussionist next paired with pianist Jacob Anderskov for 2008's Ears to the Ground. Aluê arrived in 2017 and again featured Moreira Booker, as well as Fourth World member José Neto and others. Included on the album was a re-recorded version of the title track which originally appeared on 1971's Seeds on the Ground. In 2022, Moreira joined the studio cast on Gretchen Parlato's landmark Flor, and in 2022, Purim's If You Will, which prominently featured their daughter Diana. In November 2023, England's BBE label released the multi-disc career retrospective Airto & Flora, A Celebration: 60 Years – Sounds, Dreams & Other Stories.
© Matt Collar /TiVo

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