The great Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira came to USF in Tampa this week for a workshop, a talk, and, last night, an exuberant show in the intimate setting of Theatre 2 (portrait courtesy of Joseph Gamble).
Airto, who was an essential ingredient of Miles’ early ’70s jazz-funk-fusion projects and went on to play with the original versions of both Weather Report and Return to Forever, alternated between drumset and a table full of percussion toys during the concert. He was accompanied by his son-in-law, Krishna Booker, also a percussionist (and son of late, great bassist Walter Booker, Airto’s connection to many jazz greats in the late ’60s ).
For the first part of the show, the two joined the USF faculty jazz group, for a set of Airto’s compositions — some incorporating bossa grooves, one in 6/4 (or 3/2), one in 7/4. Several pieces had tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins, head of jazz studies at USF, and trombonist Tom Brantley joining for unison lines, with Airto occasionally contributing wordless vocals. Brantley, with and without a mute, Wilkins, and LaRue Nickelson, whose guitar sometimes sported a fusion-style overdriven burr, turned in several of the evening’s most inspired solos. The group also included Mark Neuenschwander on acoustic and electric bass, pianist Chris Rottmeyer and drummer Ian Goodman.
Airto, for his solo piece, pounded out complex, driving rhythms on a large tambourine, sang along in Portuguese, used his voice (sans electronics) to create some harmonic overtones, and at the end added a whistle to create the feeling of a street parade at a Carnaval celebration in his home country. Booker turned in a brief “beatbox” solo – mouth sounds recreating hip-hop rhythms.
The show closed with a short set nicely contrasting with what came before. Brantley directed USF Jazz Ensemble 1 in performances of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” and “La Fiesta,” written by Chick Corea. Airto reminded listeners that he appeared on the original version of the latter tune, on the debut Return to Forever album, recorded in 1972 but not released in the U.S. until 1975.