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Artist Profiles: Airto Moreira

Airto Moreira

Airto Moreira’s work with Miles Davis during the Bitches Brew era and leadership in the jazz fusion genre (Weather Report, Return To Forever) places Airto in the forefront of percussionists worldwide. Airto’s influence is so powerful that in 1972 Downbeat Magazine added a “percussion” category to its readers’ and critics’ polls, and Airto was voted ‘best’ in that category many times.

Winner of the 1996 Drum Magazine Award for best percussion and Jazz Central Station’s 1996 Best Percussionist Award, Airto keeps on winning fans worldwide. His formidable expertise in Brazilian cultures and percussion instruments make Airto’s performances educational and dazzling.

Airto Guimorva Moreira was born the son of a spiritual healer in the South Brazilian town of Itaiopolis, Santa Catarina, in 1941. His love for music manifested itself at an early age. He was drumming before he could even walk, beating his fists on the floor whenever he heard music with a strong beat on the radio, which prompted his worried mother to take medical advice on his condition. By the time he was six – and winner of numerous music contests – Airto was given his first radio show on Saturday afternoons, which became a big hit in the South Brazilian town of Curitiba.

At 13, Airto sang in the band Jazz Estrela and at 16 he moved to Sao Paulo to further his career as a professional jazz drummer. By 1963, Airto had moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he became an integral part of two of the most successful bands at the time. At the age of 22, he founded the legendary Quarteto Novo (The New Quartet) with Hermeto Pascoal, Theofilo De Barros and Heraldo Do Monte. Mixing Brazilian protest songs with jazz, the band sometimes backed a fiery young vocalist called Flora Purim and – after some initial clashes – she and Airto discovered that they had more in common than music and formed what has proven to be an enduring alliance.

In 1967, at the instigation of his wife and in order to escape the then repressive military regime in Brazil, the couple moved to North America, initially to Los Angeles and then to New York, where Flora worked in a restaurant called Lost & Found. Between paid gigs, Airto would play there for his dinner. Although he could barely speak English, Airto quickly found himself fluent in the universal musical language shared by Reggie Workman, Cedar Walton and bassist Walter Booker (father of Krishna Booker aka The Factor). It was through Booker that Airto began to meet the greats…people like Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan and Joe Zawinul.

Airto Moreira

Zawinul recommended Airto to Miles Davis for a recording session in 1970 and he was soon invited to join the historic ‘electric’ band – perpetrators of the seminal ‘Bitches Brew’. This included such other jazz icons as Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea, and later, John McLaughlin and Keith Jarrett. Airto remained with the Davis group for two years and appears on several classic Miles’ sets of the era, including Live At The Fillmore and Live/Evil. He shared drumming duties on the first Weather Report album with Alphonse Mouzon, then left to form Return To Forever with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Joe Farrell in late 1971.

Having recorded two classic albums (Return To Forever and Light As A Feather) featuring the vocal pyrotechnics of Flora Purim, Chick Corea then pursued a more electric direction and Airto and Flora went their own way. For the past two decades, the couple have been practically inseparable, touring and recording together constantly.

1991 saw the release of the album Planet Drum, the culmination of a long-standing friendship with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, whom he first met when the Miles Davis band opened for The Dead at the Fillmore West in 1970. Planet Drum topped Billboard’s World Music Chart for almost six months and won the first Grammy ever presented in the category of Best World Music Recording. In the same year Airto also won the Grammy for Best Live Jazz Recording for his collaboration with the late Dizzie Gillespie on the album United Nations Orchestra. The following year, Airto again joined forces with Mickey Hart to produce the groundbreaking album of healing music The Other Side Of This.

In 1993 Airto and Flora joined the brilliant guitarist Jose Neto and the keyboards and reeds wizard Gary Meek to form Fourth World, a highly danceable Latin jazz/rock band whose first album (BW030) marked Airto’s first involvement with B&W Music. Also released is Killer Bees (BW041) recorded with a freeform supergroup, The Gods of Jazz, featuring old friends Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Mark Egan, Hiram Bullock and Herbie Hancock as well as Flora and Gary Meek. Airto is also the prime mover of the Outernational Meltdown project. With Flora, Jose Neto and others, Airto was integral to Fourth World. The final statement of the group Fourth World is Last Journey to the Fourth World (BW2122).

Although Airto and Flora Purim traveled the world constantly for many years, Airto’s love for the music and the people of his native Brazil takes him back every year to visit old friends and relatives, and to pay respects to his spiritual guides and elders. Airto’s commitment to spiritualism started at an early age and for the past ten years he has been practicing Spiritual Healing Music: the opening of new channels in communication between artists and audience, or in Airto’s words, “creating a true feeling of friendship and enjoyment that is so needed in the world right now”. His lifelong interest in spirituality led him to record The Other Side of This, an exploration into the healing power of music.

Airto continues to explore what he calls ‘Creative Percussion’. In concert, he uses a large table on rolling legs that holds a variety of strange implements. While some of these are actual percussion instruments, other items might be included as a metal rack from a refrigerator, rubber hoses, wooden shoes, springs attached to tin cans, and shakers made from beer cans. He is always on the lookout for anything that can make a unique sound and it is this attitude that will always keep Airto creative and young at heart.

His vocals, unique percussion style and the work of percussionists from other drumming traditions has attracted an audience interested in world music. It would be no exaggeration to say that Airto has influenced the direction of modern jazz worldwide. He has won numerous awards from TV and music magazines and enjoys an unparalleled audience, as a solo artist and with Flora Purim and with his numerous collaborations with artists such as Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Paul Simon. Recently he even and played on MTV Unplugged with The Smashing Pumpkins as well as contributing to movie soundtracks including The Exorcist, The Last Tango in Paris, King of the Gypsies and Apocalypse Now.

Airto Moreira

Airto has collaborated on numerous projects for M.E.L.T.2000 including the Outernational Meltdown series, Byron Wallen’s albums, the famous Kon’ko Man album by Madala Kunene, Flora Purim’s albums and Jose Neto’s album Neto. With such a wealth of musical experience and creative production of other artists and indigenous music it is not surprising that that his peers look to him as a master and pioneer of percussion.

Airto has produced and been involved in many breakthrough cross-cultural musical projects. Tribal Ethno Dance (BW092) was an opportunity to produce his own interpretation to what were basic field recordings, using simple recording equipment in rural settings. ‘The Wire’ described it as “the real African deal, but with a twist”. Sources came from DZM projects, Khoisan bushmen, the split-tone singers of Ladyfrere and a group of traditional (Sangoma) healers led by Suzan Hendricks.

Revenge of the Killer Bees (ELM8012) is a project that revisits the seminal Airto Moreira and The Gods of Jazz album Killer Bees (BW041) and is a fresh interpretation under the direction of Tony Thorpe and features remixes of Airto’s collaborations with various jazz icons, Millenium style. The spectacular recording Code:Brasil, Target: Recife is the result of Airto’s recent project involving three local bands from Recife, in Northeastern Brazil, representing the various styles and rhythms of that region.

Discography:

Natural Feelings (Buddah, 1970)
Seeds on the Ground (Buddah, 1971)
Free (CTI, 1972)
Fingers (CTI, 1973)
Virgin Land (CTI, 1974)
Identity (1975)
Promises of the Sun (Arista, 1976)
I’m Fine, How Are You? (Warner Music Japan, 1977)
Touching You… Touching Me (Warner Music Japan, 1979)
Misa Espiritual (1984)
Three-way Mirror (1985)
Latino (1986)
Samba De Flora (Montuno, 1988)
Struck by Lightning (Venture, 1989)
Killer Bees (B&W Music, 1989)
The Other Side of This (Rykodisc, 1992)
Revenge of the Killer Bees, remix of Killer Bees (Electric Melt, 1993)
Homeless (MELT 2000, 1999)
Code (1999)
Life After That (2003)
Aluê (Selo Sesc, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Fourth World

Fourth World

Fourth World, formed in 1990, featured the legendary Brazilian jazz percussionist Airto Moreira, the six-octave voice of Flora Purim, guitarist Jose Neto, keyboardist/flutist Jovino Santos Neto and Gary Brown on bass and back-up vocals.

Airto worked with Miles Davis during the Bitches Brew era. His leadership in the fusion genre (Weather Report, Return to Forever) placed Airto in the forefront of percussionists worldwide. Airto’s effect was so powerful that in 1972 Downbeat Magazine added a “percussion” category to its readers’ and critics’ polls, and Airto has been voted ‘best’ in that category almost ever since. Winner of the 1996 Drum Magazine Award for best percussion and Jazz Central Station’s 1996 Best Percussionist Award, Airto keeps on winning fans worldwide. His formidable expertise in Brazilian cultures and percussion instruments make Airto’s performances both educational and electrifying.

Flora Purim’s contributions to the jazz world have been equally as important as Airto’s, and their partnership and marriage have created a bond that is recognizable in their music. They have been making music together since their collaboration with Return To Forever in the early 197s. Flora’s extraordinary six-octave voice has set a musical role model for many singers, but few have been able to reach the simple beauty, ethereal quality and sensuality that Flora brings to her music.

Guitarist Jose Neto worked double-duty with Fourth World on his Paradis guitar, which enabled him to be the band’s guitarist and co-bassist at the same time. Jose played chords, octaves and runs that almost defy belief, resulting in a unique barrage of bass runs, cascades of semi-acoustic tones and spine-chilling lead lines. The powerful guitarist from Sao Paulo is one of the most exciting prospects to have emerged in recent years.

Keyboardist/flutist Jovino Santos Neto moved freely from Brazilian rhythms to jazz to dense orchestral textures. His goal is to use his art to abolish the barriers that still exist between the so-called “styles” of music. He blended all of his influences into an exciting amalgam.

Bassist/vocalist Gary Brown began his music career at the early age of 11, already performing in Bay Area clubs with his two brothers and father, a jazz trumpeter. Gary went on to form his own bands and develop his talent as a bassist. Powerful and emotive, he has recorded, performed and toured with an impressive list of performers and worked on numerous film soundtracks.

Fourth World toured consistently in the U.S., Europe, South America, Russia and the Far East, gaining a reputation as one of the most exciting contemporary bands in the 1990s.

Discography:

Fourth World Recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s (1992)
Fourth World (1994)
Fourth World live (1995)
Encounters of the Fourth World (1995)
Last Journey (1999)

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Remastered Edition of Iconic Planet Drum Album

Planet Drum, the percussion album that became a world music sensation 25 years ago is available again, remastered and with new tracks. The 25th Anniversary Special Edition will be available on Friday, December 2nd, 2016 in various formats, including Vinyl LP for the first time.

On Planet Drum, American drummer Mickey Hart (The Grateful Dead) brought together percussion maestros from various parts of the world: Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram (India), Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju (Nigeria), Airto Moreira and Flora Purim (Brazil), and Giovanni Hidalgo (Puerto Rico).

The Remastered 25th Anniversary Edition includes 3 new tracks: Sea Of Showers, Throat Games, And The Spot. Sea Of Showers features Flora Purim And Babatunde Olatunji. Throat Games is a vocal percussion piece with Baba, Sikiru, Zakir, and Airto. The Spot starts with the sound of water drops, and then showcases Zakir and Airto.

Mickey Hart
Mickey Hart

Planet Drum: Song Descriptions by Mickey Hart

1. Udu Chant 3:40

Udu Chant represents the struggle of Life and Death, which throughout history has been portrayed in ritual using percussion. Airto plays Portuguese wooden shoes called tamanco. I play the “Beam” and a giant hoop drum from the Arctic Circle, which together form the resounding low end. Sikiru maintains a timeline bell pattern, while Zakir plays custom-made electronic triggers connected to digitally-sampled ¬Udu drums.

Sikiru Adepoju – Cowbell
Mickey Hart – Bass drum, snare drum, hoop drum, tambourine, triangles “Beam,” vocals
Zakir Hussain – Udu drum, balafon, tabla
Airto Moreira – Tamanco, bird calls, whistles, conch shell, claps, chimes, vocals

2. Island Groove 5:43

Island Groove is the soft side of percussion. It is a slow but simple 4/4 samba of ashiko rhythm, based on the sounds of the Yoruban consonants: go, pa, gun. When put together, they become drum talk. This song evolved as the rhymes one person played reminded another of something in their own background. We were able to collectively draw upon our various traditions, and contribute individually to the creation of this composition.

Sikiru Adepoju – Duggi tarang, dundun
Mickey Hart –Bombo indio with split bamboo, Drum set
Zakir Hussain – Madal, dholak
Airto Moreira – Caxixi, rattles, yelling, Chinese cymbal-throwing
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, congas, shekere, vocals

3. Light Over Shadow 3:51

Airto started this song with a slow groove which had the power of the drum set, without the usual accompaniment of cymbals. He used a variety of unusual instruments in the composition. Among these were Mexican donkey jaws and a metal spring which resonates on the body of the instrument when hit with a stick.

Airto Moreira – Snare drum, metal spring, toms, (quijada de burro) Mexican donkey jaws cowbell, cuica, flute, vocals
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, ashiko, ngoma
Flora Purim – vocals

4. Dance Of The Hunter’s Fire 2:59

Dance of the Hunter’s Fire demonstrates the basic African polyrhythm, four beats against six beats. It is an interesting comparison of two rhythmic traditions, the African and the South Indian. What you hear is Baba’s interpretation of the six-beat rhythm laid against four-beat carpet, while Vikku improvises on the Ghatam.

Sikiru Adepoju – Bell
Frank Colon – Shekere
Giovanni Hidalgo – Shekere and Congas
Airto Moreira – ¬jembe, shakers
Caryl Ohrbach – Shaker
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe
Flora Purim – Shaker
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam

5. Jewe “You Are The One” 4:06

Jewe is an example of the use of the human body as a percussion instrument. Five of us are playing in this song, slapping our chests and singing. This cupping of hands and slapping of the chest cavity created a hollow thud, and allowed us to control the vibration of our voices.

Mickey Hart –Vocals, body percussion
Bruce Langhorne – Vocals, body percussion
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals, body percussion
Flora Purim – Vocals
Gordy Ryan – Vocals, body percussion

6. The Hunt

This song represents the primitive with a feeling of the relentless pursuit of the hunt. Sikiru’s talking drum speaks over the djembe, Jew’s harp, and drum set to form a unique rhythm.

Sikiru Adepoju – Dundun
Mickey Hart – Drum set
Zakir Hussain – Naal, bells, tabla
Airto Moreira – Shakers
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, ashiko, ngoma
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam, Jew’s harp

7. Temple Caves 3:13

At the dawn of religion, the Paleolithic trance dancers gathered in subterranean temple caves for ritual celebration. The natural sounds of the caves were an eerie backdrop to the dances. The echoes, the bats, the water dripping from the roof, the whacking of palm against stalagmite and the stalactite resounded thought the caves, creating unique percussive sounds. These sounds were the inspiration for Temple Caves.

Sikiru Adepoju – Gudugudu
Mickey Hart – Split Bamboo, rain stick, shakers, Earth Drum, clackers, duggi tarang, body percussion
Zakir Hussain – tabla, taya
Airto Moreira – Slit gongs, conch shell, shakers, voice/breath
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, congas

8. The Dancing Sorcerer 2:57

The Dancing Sorcerer features Airto on berimbau, and Zakir on tabla and madal. The berimbau is one of the oldest instruments known to man. In fact, it may be the image of a musical bow in the caves at Les Trois Freres (15,000 BC) that provided the first documentation of percussion’s connection to the sacred. This picture resembles a man wearing the skin of an animal and playing some kind of instrument, possibly a sounding bow or concussion stick.

Zakir Hussain – madal, tabla
Airto Moreira – berimbau

9. Bones 4:10

This song is based on a rhythm I played on the balafon, with bones as mallets. The rest of the ensemble added their own sounds. The use of bones, especially human bones, exhibits a relationship between percussion and ritual. Hitting one bone against the other, or using bones on drums instead of sticks has an influence on the sound produced, and on the person who produces it.

Mickey Hart- Bones, balafon
Giovanni Hidalgo – batá
Zakir Hussain – Dundun, shaker and bell
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals
Flora Purim – Vocals

10. Lost River 2:58

Lost River is a high-spirited song that demonstrates an interplay between the human voice and percussion instruments. To Zakir, this song brought to mind the singing of children in the mountains of India. The drums provide the strong rhythm which lays a foundation for Flora’s flowing melody.

Sikiru Adepoju – jembe, dundun

Mickey Hart – Drum set

Zakir Hussain – Duggi tarang, conch shell

Airto Moreira – Cymbals, shakers, wood blocks, floor tom, metal percussion
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals

Flora Purim – Vocals

11 Evening Samba 4:30

Evening Samba is a mixture of Brazilian and Angolan rhythms, a perfect frame for out extended bell improvisation.

Sikiru Adepoju – Bell
Mickey Hart – Bell
Zakir Hussain – Bell
Airto Moreira – Bass drum, snare drum, tom toms, tambourine, whistles, wood blocks, metal percussion, cymbals, bells
Babatunde Olatunji – Shaker, bell
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam

12. Iyanu “Surprises” 2:02

Iyanu was recorded in 1986, after the Olatunji sessions which resulted in the recordings of the “Invocation to the Orishas” and “The Beat.” The gourds were grown in my garden, and arranged into a new instrument, a gourdophone. Airto played metal brushes against split bamboo.

Molonga Casquelord – Vocals
Mickey Hart – Gourds, vocals
Airto Moreira – Vocals, bamboo with brushes
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals, clapping
Flora Purim – Vocals

13. Mysterious Island 5:49

Mysterious Island began with recording I made of ocean waves late one night in Kona, Hawaii. I brought back the recording and played it for the ensemble. It was the inspiration for Flora’s seagulls and for her dialogue with a circle of wind chimes which she assembled and walked among during the recording of the song. Mysterious Island mixes the natural elements of water, rain, blowing wind, and birds with the sound of metal bells and the human voice.

Mickey Hart – Grand dumbek, body percussion
Airto Moreira – Bird whistles, nose flute body percussion, tambourine
Flora Purim – Wind chimes, seagulls, vocals
Jeff Sterling – Udu Drum

The Bonus Tracks

This special, remastered 25th anniversary release includes three new tracks produced by Mickey and Zakir, with Zakir’s arrangements of material from the original 1991 recording sessions.

14. Sea Of Showers 4:52

Sea of Showers features Flora Purim and Babatunde Olatunji singing over an elegant rhythm base that includes sounds from Airto’s Aboriginal Australian bullroarer to Flora’s chimes.

15. Throat Games 2:27

Throat Games presents a pan-global scat-a-thon by Babatunde Olatunji, Sikiru Adepoju, Zakir Hussain, and Airto Moreira, using styles of vocalizations from their various musical traditions.

16. The Spot 4:34

The Spot begins with the sound of water drops, and then Zakir Hussain and Airto Moreira dance with the rhythms of the tiny waves in an homage to the water gods.

Buy Planet Drum

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Get With The Beat

Airto Moreira - Life After That
Airto Moreira – Life After That (Narada 70876-18077-2-1, 2003)

Babatunde Olatunji – Healing Session (70876-18132-2-7, 2003)

Airto Moreira and Babatunde Olatunji both have solidified reputations as master percussionists, trailblazers in the percussion realm and pioneers of global music. They teamed up from time to time as well, on each other’s projects and on such milestones as Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum album. Olatunji’s death earlier this year marked the passing of a true legend. I’m betting it’s more than a coincidence that his first posthumous album is emerging at the same time as a new release from Airto (on the same label, no less), but speculation on that point is far secondary to the fact that we have two stunningly good percussion-based discs here.

There’s nothing Airto Moreira can’t do with percussion. In decades of solo and group work with jazz fusionists, experimental musicians, rock and rollers, traditionalists and beyond, he’s been able to take even the most deceptively simple-seeming gadgets and make magic with them. And no wonder. He grew up in Brazil, land of imported African beats and a place where the rules of percussion have been rewritten repeatedly. Nonetheless, Life After That is a surprising stunner even for Airto. Some of his work has been more about creating moods and environments centered around percussion and vocal sounds than conventional drumming pieces, but this latest is the best of all worlds. It’s a near-perfect balance of feverish drum jams, rhythmic soundscapes, brilliant symbiosis of melody and beat and lots of just plain fun. Smack dab in the middle is ten minutes of Airto soloing on the Brazilian tambourine known as the pandeiro, and before and after that such guests as fellow percussionists Giovanni Hidalgo and Michito Sanchez, vocalist Flora Purim (Airto’s wife) and didgeridoo specialist Stephen Kent add to the festivities. A smattering of guitars, bass, piano and winds sometimes adds refinement, but this is a percussionist’s utopia through and through. Still, global music listeners across the board are likely to groove to what’s here, be it the Olatunji tribute, the sprawling “Ritmo Do Mundo” or the human beatbox-with-Jamaican-accents track “Let It Out Let It In,” which my kids have lately been singing around the house quite a bit.

Babatunde Olatunji - Healing Session
The words “healing session” could be applicable to just about everything Olatunji did in his life, given the shamanic quality of a performing, recording and teaching career that began with the unprecedented success of his Drums of Passion album more than 40 years ago. Some of his discs were pure percussion, some added other instruments for a more fusion-geared sound, and he too collaborated with many notable music makers in his day. Longtime fans may be taken aback with the relatively low-key Healing Session, especially if it’s the hard, fast, intensely polyrhythmic Olatunji they’re used to.

The intricacies of layered African percussion are present, although the slower, unfolding nature of the tracks show an intimacy and meditative aura not often associated with Olatunji’s sort of drumming. But it works, wonderfully. Steady, hypnotic beats are embellished with further rhythms that both comply and contrast, taking their time to build to blissful convergences of percussion and chants that seem to sway in and out of some misty, otherworldly place. If that description sounds like new age blather, forgive me. The track-by-track specifics in the liner notes (written by Olatunji himself) state the case much better. Suffice to say that this cd has the same sort of depth as the mystical music created by, for example, similarly inclined indigenous peoples and Gregorian monks- longing, hopeful, reassuring, ultimately striving to make this world a more beautiful place. Immerse yourself.

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