Airto ‘Fingers’ + Airto/Deodato ‘In Concert’ SACD (Vocalion) 4/5

This pairing of mid-1970s CTI productions by Creed Taylor places the emphasis firmly on Brazilian jazz, with Moreira featured on both recordings and in his prime. In fact, by the early 1970s Airto Moreira had rapidly become one of the most in-demand session percussionists, participating on such memorable albums as Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’, the self-titled Weather Report debut, and not forgetting Chick Corea and Return to Forever, for whom both ‘La Fiesta’ and ‘Spain’ remain staples of the Latin-jazz songbook. The slightly earlier outing, ‘Fingers’ (1973), is the stronger and grittier of the two albums, with a stellar cast that included vocalist and life partner of Moreira, Flora Purim, Hugo Fattoruso on keyboards (with brother Jorge on drums and vocals) with David Amaro on guitar. Pride of place goes to the epic rendition of what would become a regular number on the Moreira live performances, ‘Tombo in 7/4’, which would later on a Warners album morph into ‘Celebration Suite’. Equally strong is the Latin jazz instrumental, ‘Romance of Death’, while the album as a whole comes across as a hybrid of the then in-vogue Santana Latin rock sound. Indeed, around the same time, both Purim and Moreira would record with Santana on the excellent ‘Borboletta’ (1974).

While Airto was progressing rapidly as a leader, fellow Brazilian keyboardist and arranger Eumir Deodato had scored a major pop hit with the adaptation of a western classical piece by Richard Strauss, ‘Also Sprach Zorathustra’ (2001). The live concert from which this album is taken was recorded partly at the Felt Forum of the Madison Square Garden, New York, and edited from a wider live tour in 1973. It is a mixed affair with symphonic lushness sometimes overriding the acoustic Brazilian folk elements. Best of all is, ‘Paraná’, which features acoustic guitar and the voice of Airto. An unlisted wordless female vocalist (almost certainly Flora Purim again) adds some subtle layered texture to proceedings. Gentle keyboard musings by the leader are in the ascendant on ‘Spirit Of Summer’, even with orchestral strings while it is the sound of the Afro-Brazilian berimbau that takes centre stage on ‘O Galho da Roseira’ (The branches of the rose tree), with wordless vocals supplied this time by Airto himself. On the more commercial side, a cover of Steely Dan’s ‘Do It Again’, is accompanied by an impressive big band section that includes Garnett Brown on trombone and Scot Joe Temperley on baritone saxophone. The line up differs markedly from ‘Fingers’, with John Tropea adding more contemporary electric guitar, while Rubens Bassini accompanies Airto on percussion. Well worth investigating for ‘Fingers’ alone, even long-term fans cannot fail to be warmed by the super audio CD format that Vocalion prides itself on.

Tim Stenhouse