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JAZZ REVIEW

Spirited Acts Heat Up Brazil Festival

September 09, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The real fun of the Brazil Summer Festival '97 at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday and Sunday was in the details.

Sure, the veteran Brazilian jazz artists Flora Purim and Airto Moreira were in good form, but it was the lesser-known performers--the Aluadomar Dance Company, the M.I.L.A. (Mocidade Independente de Los Angeles) Samba School and a perky 8-year-old pianist named Otto Ribeiro Ehling--who provided the shows with characteristic Brazilian enthusiasm, spirit and color.

The Aluadomar dancers, from San Francisco, brought an unusual array of costumes and movements to their attractive performances. Touching upon dances such as samba de roda, samba batucada and a variety of African-tinged Candomble dances, they were constantly appealing--moving easily from the stylized moves of the ethnic dances to the sheer sensuality of the feathered and sequined carnival sambas.

The M.I.L.A. Samba School, a collection of percussionists assembled in the style of Rio's famous samba school ensembles, was more enthusiastic than skilled. But the energy and passion of the performance, with its outpouring of rhythm, was irrepressibly appealing.

And the gifted Ehling, who was described as a "bossa nova pianist" but who also played some convincing Gershwin, was equally fascinating. His rendering of "The Girl From Ipanema," in which he played, sang and exhorted the audience to join in the vocal, produced some of the most spirited, interactive reactions of the festival.

Which is not to fault Purim and Moreira, who did what they have been doing for nearly three decades. But it was notable--and somewhat problematic for fans who came to both nights--that the duo's Brazilian Project ensemble played precisely the same sequence of tunes on each program. Yes, the music was played with the percussive vigor that has long characterized Moreira's work, and, yes, Purim's voice--with its remarkable range and power--sounded splendid. But much of the set nonetheless had a programmed quality that was far different from the sheer spontaneous energies of the young, unfamiliar artists on the bill.

To his credit, however, Moreira offered two pieces, in both sets, that revealed how good he is, and how good the balance of his program--given a similarly dynamic presentation--might have been.

Also on the bill, singer Ana Gazzola added some engaging vocals.

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