Flora Purim may be one of the most unfortunate stories in jazz of the past 35 years. First coming to light with Duke Pearson and Gil Evans, it was the one-two punch of pianist Chick Corea's Return to Forever (ECM, 1972) and Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973) that introduced the Brazilian singer to a broader audience. The momentum from these two albums resulted in a series of fine solo records for Purim throughout the 1970s, but personal circumstances sidetracked her in the 1980s. She continues to record and perform today but has never regained the critical or public acclaim from those early years.
Still, her 1970s recordings were significant, not just for Purim but for vocal jazz in general. The Keepnews Collection remaster/reissue of her first Milestone album, 1974's Butterfly Dreams, is a welcome reminder of just how unique her voice and approach were, and how influential she continues to be. With a mix of original material written by Purim, bassist Stanley Clarke and keyboardist George Duke complementing songs by fellow Brazilians Antonio Carlos Jobim and Egberto Gismonti and one standard, it's a diverse record that in its brief 37 minutes, affirms Purim's position as one of the most important musical voices to emerge from that era.
The 1970s was a time when anything was possible. Two takes of Clarke's "Dr. Jive, mix funky bass lines and clavinet with Brazilian rhythms and Purim's unmistakable approach to improvisation: raw, unbridled and as much a percussive dovetail with husband Airto Moreira's layered drums and percussion as it is a melodic frontline. Purim's remarkable six-octave range and, more importantly, her control of it throughout make the first part of "Dr. Jive a clarion call for the entire album.
Purim's a far better fit for Clarke's "Butterfly Dreams than Dee Dee Bridgewater, who sang it on his Journey to Love (Polydor, 1972). More nuanced and less disposed to vocal gymnastics, Purim manages to get deeper inside the lyrics, with its rubato intro an ideal vehicle for her understated yet passionate delivery. Her gentle take on Jobim's "Dindi contrasts with the more energetic "Summer Night, where a slap-back delay is added to broaden her wordless vocal. An even fierier "Moon Dreams provides both Purim and Duke the opportunity to stretch Gismonti's tune to the limitpropelled, once again, by Moreira and Clarke's strength of forward motion.
Saxophone legend Joe Henderson (also making a rare appearance on flute) and underrated guitarist David Amaro flesh out the group, along with Ernie Hood's zither, which lends a distinctive color to both "Summer Night and "Moon Dreams.
Producer Orrin Keepnews' 24-but remaster is clean and warm. But as important as the upgraded sound is, it's the availability of Butterfly Dreams that's most significant; once again, strengthening Purim's position in the history of jazz vocals, even if she's never regained the acclaim that was rightfully hers during her 1970s creative peak.
Personnel: Flora Purim: vocals; Joe Henderson: flute, tenor saxophone; George Duke: electric and acoustic piano, clavinet,
synthesizer; David Amaro: electric and acoustic guitar; Ernie Hood: zither; Stanley Clarke: electric and acoustic
bass; Airto Moreira: drums percussion.