July 12, 2024

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CD review: Flora Purim – If You Will 2022: Video, CD cover

The first lady of Brazilian music (there’s a long queue) celebrates her 80th birthday with her first album in 15 years. With her family and favoured musicians in support, it’s a celebratory affair, mixing new material and old favourites.

The title track, for example, is a 1992 collaboration with the late US pianist George Duke, a piece of jazz-funk given a more Brazilian flavour this time around, with trademark vocals that shift from lyrics to wordless exaltation – Purim’s daughter Diana is on hand to carry on the torch in convincing style.

From further back, when Purim first crossed from Brazilian to international fame, is 500 Miles High, originally recorded with Chick Corea’s group in 1974 and here presented pretty much intact. A greater transformation is worked on This Is Me, an intricate workout penned by percussionist (and husband) Airto Moreira, its lyrics re-worked by Diana. She has made waves of her own in recent years, and nabs a couple more writing credits – let’s keep it in the family – but the other standouts are Zahuroo by Claudia Villela, a supercharged samba, and Dois + Dois = Tres, an unexpectedly bluesy outing on which guitarist José Neto shines. A well-polished gem – welcome back.

The musician, now 80, looks back at her time with Chick Corea and Carlos Santana as she prepares to release her first album in 17 years.

Once, at a Miles Davis concert, Flora Purim was sitting alone. Janis Joplin took the seat next to her, and a friendship was born. Upon moving to New Jersey, Purim discovered that she was neighbors with João Gilberto. He invited her over, and beat her at Ping-Pong. In 1965, at the João Sebastião Bar in São Paulo, Brazil, Purim was installed as the singer with a band called Sambalanço Trio; on drums was her future partner, Airto Moreira. Chance, one could say, has played an outsize role in her life.

But skill — not luck — is what made Purim a star of the 1970s jazz scene. A nimble, inventive vocalist steeped in the mystical, Purim made a near-immediate splash when she moved to New York from Brazil in 1967. After an ill-fated run with Stan Getz — for one thing, she didn’t want to sing “The Girl from Ipanema,” feeling it belonged to Astrud Gilberto — Purim became the frontwoman of Return to Forever, Chick Corea’s innovative jazz-rock-Brazilian-flamenco fusion band.

April 12, 2022Alongside Corea, Moreira, the bassist Stanley Clarke and the saxophonist Joe Farrell, Purim recorded fusion classics like “500 Miles High” and “Light as a Feather.” After splitting with Return to Forever in the early ’70s, Purim’s ascent was threatened by a drug conviction that landed her in a California prison. But while Purim was behind bars, both George Duke and the band Santana released albums featuring her vocals, and not long after her release at the end of 1975, she signed a major-label deal with Warner Bros. A slowdown was not in the cards.

Work with Dizzy Gillespie and the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart followed. Grammy nominations came for the 1986 and 1987 awards, and the following decade saw the flourishing of Fourth World, a collective including Moreira and the Brazilian guitarist José Neto. But in terms of studio albums, Purim went silent after “Flora’s Song” in 2005. The music returns on Friday with “If You Will,” a pressing, luminous album featuring Moreira on percussion and a song each by Duke (“If You Will”) and Corea (“500 Miles High”), both originally recorded with Purim. The LP is both a glance at the past and a survey of the present, with what Purim once referred to as her “Brazilian Raw Approach” still in effect.

During a two-hour video call from her current home in Curitiba, Brazil, Purim, who turned 80 last month, left no stone unturned, leaping from life on the road with an infant to leaving Scientology to a middle-of-the-night studio session with Carlos Santana. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

1. Flora Purim featuring Diana Purim & Diana Purim – If You Will
2. This Is Me
3. 500 Miles High
4. A Flor Da Vida
5. Newspaper Girl
6. Dandara
7. Zahuroo
8. Dois + Dois = Tres
9. Lucidez

Lead Vocals – Flora Purim
Vocals – Diana Purim
Percussion – Airto Moreira, Celso Alberti
Guitar – José Neto
Bass – Fábio Hess
Piano – Mika Mutti

If You Will | Flora Purim

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