As we get ready to wind down the days of summer, it occurred to me that some of my favorite music of the season has always been Latin or Brazilian tinged. Something about that incendiary percussive mix always seems to speak of those warm and lazy afternoons under a shade tree with possibly a margarita on hand. Of those Brazilian artists most closely tied to the innovative jazz climate of the United States, drummer and percussionist Airto Moriera has come up with some of the most interesting concoctions blending the music of his heritage with the advanced harmonic language of American jazz.
The first ripple to reach American audiences would find Airto as part of Chick Corea's Return to Forever in the early '70s, closely followed by a deal with Creed Taylor's CTI label that allowed the percussionist a chance to record his music without much of the commercial concessions that were often applied to CTI products. Both Free and Fingers represent not only some of Airto's best work on record, but also stand as two of the most substantial examples of crossbreeding between contemporary jazz and Brazilian folk traditions.
During the directionless latter part of the '70s, when music found itself in a cloudy funk, Airto seemed to disappear from view. That was until he struck a short-lived deal with Warner Brothers that produced two albums, the first being our topic of discussion here and another highpoint in the Airto catalog. I was first introduced to 1977's I'm Fine. How Are You? as a student of drummer Skip Hadden's while attending Berklee College of Music in the mid-'80s. The authentic 'samba school' format that permeates "The Happy People" was presented as one of the most "in the pocket" samba grooves to he heard on record and its impact has yet to diminish some 25 years after its recording.
Executed flawlessly and recorded with crystal clear presence, the eight tracks that make up this album present Airto at his most diverse. Vocalist Ruben Rada makes both "Meni Devol" and "La Tumbadora" come to life with falsetto forays that soar above Airto's complex and organic groundwork. Furthermore, the percussive battery is supported additionally by masters Manolo Badrena and Laudir de Oliveira (a member of the pop group Chicago at the time). As an added bonus, the late Jaco Pastorius contributes a typically fine lead voice to the dark and brooding "Nativity".
In the final analysis, there's simply so much depth to what's going on here that mere words fail at conveying the scope. Suffice it to say that fans of Brazilian styles and fusion jazz will find much to savor. By the time of Airto's less than thrilling follow up album to I'm Fine. How Are You? , Warner Brothers had decided to limit its jazz output and quickly dropped the percussionist. But for a brief moment, everything came together for an artistically substantial album that demands a compact disc reissue in the near future.
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