The Brazilian husband-and-wife team of Airto Moreira and Flora Purim has been a presence in jazz for more than three decades. Working individually or in tandem with some of the music's finest practitioners--Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Chick Corea and Weather Report, among others--they have played a quiet but important role in bringing the passion and the piquancy of Brazil to the jazz world.
Although, with their own groups, they have sometimes verged toward electric fusion music, the quintet they brought to Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday, in the opening set of a six-night run, was firmly within the orbit of acoustic jazz. Leading a group that included frequent associate Gary Meek on saxophones and flute, David Goldblatt on piano and Trey Henry on bass, the two offered a set that cruised some of their early material and added selections from Purim's newly released album, "Perpetual Emotion."
The music centered on a triangular path leading from Moreira to Purim to Meek. Purim's velvet-toned voice took a largely instrumental role, maneuvering smoothly through the complex twists, turns and sometimes startling interval leaps of many of the melodies. Effective as she was--and her capacity to execute a rhythmic phrase with verve was an important contribution to the music--it would also have been nice to have heard her sing a few more songs with lyrics.
Meek's saxophone ranged across the emotional spectrum, from cool-toned understatement to fiery, multi-note aggressiveness, all of it delivered with an urgent sense of swing.
Moreira, seated behind a jazz drum set, was the dynamo that energized the music. But the highlight of the evening, as it almost always is when he performs, was his showcase tambourine and voice solo. Playing the seemingly rudimentary hand-held instrument, adding his voice in chants, songs and mimicry, he generated an astonishing collection of sounds and rhythms. And when he suddenly added a police whistle to the mix, it was as though he had become transformed into an entire samba percussion section.
It was no wonder that the crowd erupted with a roar of enthusiasm. Thirty-plus years after they first brought their brand of Brazil to jazz, Airto and Purim still have plenty of musical spice to offer.
* The Flora Purim and Airto Moreira Quintet at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Today and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., $18 cover. Today and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 p.m., $16. Two-drink minimum. (323) 466-2210.