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Her Voice Is In The Air

Flora Purim's <em>If You Will</em> is the first album by the influential jazz fusion artist in 15 years and, she says, her last.
Mel Gabardo
/
Courtesy of the artist
Flora Purim's <em>If You Will</em> is the first album by the influential jazz fusion artist in 15 years and, she says, her last.

Flora Purim's voice echoes through the music of the last half-century as if generated by the atmosphere. The often wordless, rhythmic, deeply free style the Brazilian singer pioneered is the astrological air element connecting samba to rock and be-bop to jazz fusion. Her singing energizes landmark recordings with Chick Corea, George Duke and Airto Moreira, the percussionist who is also her husband and lifelong musical partner. At the height of her success during American music's renewed love affair with Brazil in the mid-1970s, this earthy woman with the voice of a bird, a cloud, a butterfly — all images invoked on albums with titles like Light As a Feather, as marketers tried to capture the floating precision of her technique — had the most lucrative recording deal in jazz and an unquenchable desire to keep moving. She could fly: "I am trying to create a kind of music that goes beyond jazz, that is universal," she told journalist Larry Rohter in 1977. "I am looking for something that recognizes no barriers, no flags, no languages." Her adventurousness would take her beyond jazz and back again many times and crown her as the rarest kind of singer: often imitated, rarely if ever matched.

In 2022, the 80-year-old Purim's presence within popular music history is pervasive, yet somehow remains ethereal. Younger artists like Moonchild and Zara McFarlane are bringing back the light-stepping approach Purim has long embodied, and on the corner where jazz meets hip-hop, the fusion era when she was the undisputed queen of jazz (winning DownBeat magazine's prize for Best Vocalist four times) is a constant touchpoint. Now it's time for Purim's huge influence to be fully acknowledged. A new solo album — her first in 15 years and, she says, her final one — offers an occasion to consider her legacy in full. Anyone who begins that deep dive will wonder why her remarkable life and work hasn't already received the fervid reassessment others of her generation have recently enjoyed.

Her own retreat into a quieter life may have partially delayed Purim's revival, in the U.S. at least. Having returned to Brazil from the U.S. a decade ago, she was content working behind the scenes as a producer and collaborator until Roberta Cutolo, an Italian DJ and producer, persuaded her that the atmosphere needed her high notes again. "I'd already finished my singing career," Purim told me over Zoom from her home in Curitiba. "She said, 'Really, Flora, you have to do it. People are asking when there will be a new release!' She insisted and insisted."

If You Will steps forward by grounding itself in Purim's six decades of musical wanderlust; combining mostly new songs with a few brilliantly reworked favorites from her catalog, it makes the case for her continued relevance and vitality. That's not so hard to do once you start to connect the contrails. Jazz fans know of Purim's crucial role in the fusion movement of the 1970s, but may have lost track of her after she turned toward music more rooted in indigenous rhythms in the 1980s. She's an icon among Brazilian artists, but spent half her life in the U.S. and never settled into the lanes defined by either bossa nova or its insurgent younger cousin, tropicalismo. From the 1990s to the present day, her solo work and recordings with Airto have been carried to new ears by hip-hop samplers and DJ's, especially on European dance floors, but she hasn't been made iconic by crate-diggers in the same way as similar explorers like Alice Coltrane and Betty Davis. Instead, Purim's voice is ubiquitous and uniquely charismatic without always being clearly identified. Pull out an old George Duke album or the first recordings by Chick Corea's Return to Forever, and there it is. Wander into the Grateful Dead universe and you'll hear it, too, as part of Mickey Hart's inquiries into "the world's music, not world music" through the Däfos and Planet Drum projects. Dance on the sands of Southern France or in the exclusive clubs of London and her soprano wails will lift you up. But is Purim's name always spoken? She is an artist whose story needs to be told clearly and in detail, instead of floating in the mix.

The truth is that Purim reinvented jazz singing for the psychedelic age. If her influence eludes easy definition, that's because her restless spirit led her to continually bust every confining category. When I asked her if her music always emanated from a Brazilian center, she answered firmly, "No, no, no! It's always from the music's standpoint!" And music inherently remains in motion.

This dedication to change makes Purim a great jazz singer, but one who simply doesn't fit within most established hierarchies. Starting with her groundbreaking work in the 1970s, she created something startlingly new by putting many different elements in conversation: jazz phrasings, bossa nova rhythms, the machismo of the guitar solo and the shimmer-shake of the pandeiro, the Brazilian tambourine. Beatboxing before that term existed, Purim allowed herself to be inspired by an array of percussive techniques that connect Brazilian indigenous practices with free-form experiments.

"It's not very difficult," she said brightly when I asked her how she turned her own body into the equivalent of the suitcase full of percussion instruments Airto would carry from gig to gig. "Tribes, in the past, all over — I'm not just talking about Brazil, I'm talking about Africa and New Zealand — they had to do that. There were no cell phones. So how they'd let the other tribes three or four kilometers away know that they were around? Through drumming. The drummers will send a message to the next tribe, and this drummer to the next tribe, to the next, until it gets to the tribe they wanted to become friends with. That's one metaphor I think about. And the next is — the first song you make when you are born, that your parents hear, is the heartbeat. Even before you were born, you go for a check in and they play the heartbeat for you. B-boom, b-boom, b-boom. And the other sound you have is your voice. Yes. With those two things, you have a band."


Dauntingly prolific in the first decade of her time in America – more than 20 albums released between 1972 and 1980 are graced by her presence – Purim was key in defining what a jazz band could be at a time when the form was as open-ended as it would ever be. The credits on her own solo sessions read like a freethinkers' cultural exchange, with stars of the Brazilian contingent that reshaped the 1970s session scene, like Milton Nascimento and her and Airto's mentor Hermeto Pascoal, mingling with young jazz lions Ron Carter, Miroslav Vitouš and Herbie Mann. (Purim would engage in a more official ambassadorship in the late 1980s as amember of Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra). Her Return to Forever work, interchanges with Airto and involvement in classic albums by Shorter, Carlos Santana and others make Purim just as much a founder of jazz fusion as the more acknowledged men who sought out her voice and ideas for their own projects. Yet in the histories of that period, Purim is most often referred to as "Airto's wife" — as if she were merely a bonus ingredient in the collaborations she often spearheaded.

She dismisses this inequity as mere semantics. "I never really felt the difference," she said when I asked her about Airto receiving more accolades as a jazz influencer than she has. She and Airto often took on production duties for each others' albums and neither felt threatened when the other ventured down other avenues. "The purpose was always to help each other with whatever we could give to make each other's project sound good. And when I took off with other bands, it was a way to expand, and when we got back from those other bands we had a lot more to share. I never felt I was not acknowledged. In fact, Airto still acknowledges me every day!"

Purim has always been a deep listener, soaking up the wisdom of others and integrating their approaches into her own. She cites three jazz greats she's called friends, in particular, for helping her see that she could break the rules of bebop, the music that first drew her from Brazil to the U.S. when she was 24 years old. "In music, there are no mistakes," she said. "And this I learned from Ron Carter, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. When you play a note that is not supposed to be there, you take it and make something else out of it. And that's how we create when we are doing improvisational things. Every night is a new unit of time."

Her belief in forward motion doesn't just inspire Purim while making music; it's what's carried her through lean times and good times and kept her constantly innovating. The child of two Jewish classical musicians who sneaked listens to her mother's Ella Fitzgerald albums when her jazz-scorning father was out of the house, Purim began singing professionally as a teenager in Rio, soon moving to the fore of a scene centered around the the haute sound of bossa nova, a cool style that Flora, who also played guitar, easily mastered. She became a busy favorite on the club circuit between Rio and Sao Paolo; she and her then-companion, the drummer Dom Um Romão, occasionally hosted curious Americans like the hard bop pianist Horace Silver, who wrote his signature "Song For My Father" in their living room.

Purim met Airto in 1965, not long after her teenage relationship with Roamao, which produced her daughter Niura, fizzled out. Engaged to perform bossa nova in Sao Paolo's famed San Sebastian bar, she was intrigued by the young percussionist from the country whose suitcase of instruments was like a cornucopia of African diasporic rhythm. He was cocky; she challenged him. In a 2017 interview with drummer and podcaster Joe Wong, Airto recalled how Purim actually turned him on to jazz: "She was the first and only, at that time, real woman musician," he said. "Not just a singer. She was listening to Oscar Peterson, to Miles, to Gil Evans. I remember one time I was at her place in São Paulo and she was playing the music on an LP [a little research suggests it was Miles Davis's Miles Ahead]. And there was this song. And it hit me right in my stomach. I couldn't believe I was feeling that. And then I started crying! I said, I'm very sorry I'm crying, I don't know what happened. And she said, that's called musical sensibility."

Flora Purim (center, on triangle) performs with her husband Airto Moreira (left, on tamborim) and Hermeto Pascoal at an outdoor concert in New York City in July 1970.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Flora Purim (center, on triangle) performs with her husband Airto Moreira (left, on tamborim) and Hermeto Pascoal at an outdoor concert in New York City in July 1970.

Purim's acute sensibility helped her find her place when she moved to New York in 1967 to "learn from the guys who'd really invented jazz," as she told me. Airto soon followed. Connecting with the growing community of Brazilians traveling back and forth from Rio to New York, she joined in the jam sessions from which fusion emerged. One such session with Corea planted the seeds for Return to Forever. But first Purim paid her dues singing more familiar Brazilian music on the road with Stan Getz and as a background singer for the regal South African singer Miriam Makeba.

Makeba, then a sensation on the strength of her massive hit "Pata Pata," was singing some Brazilian material in her nightclub set. Her musical director brought Purim in to help the other background singers pronounce the Portuguese words correctly. "After the second concert," she said, "Miriam called me into her dressing room. She said, listen, here's my manager's phone number. I already called him. Please go see him. You cannot be a backup singer. You have more to give. Go, go. And I did, and went and got my first record deal."

Purim grabbed what opportunities arose for both collaboration and learning in those first years. She recorded with Duke Pearson, formed a lasting bond with Gil Evans, learned to read music and began teaching herself how to use synthesizers and other electronics. But before she began her solo career, there would be two detours. One enriched Purim's life and work. The other produced her young life's biggest challenge.


The first was musical. Jazz was changing, in part because of the Latin musicians expanding the rhythmic possibilities at the music's core. Miles Davis recruited Airto for the legendary sessions that produced the jazz fusion bible Bitches Brew and toured with that band; Purim joined the entourage and soaked it all in. Pascoal, also then on the Miles Davis train, assisted her in exploring electronics and vocal effects as a way of escaping the twin traps of straight-ahead jazz and bossa nova. Bringing Airto into their sessions and with Pascal's guidance, Purim began developing a form of fusion just as powerful as what Davis was doing, or what Shorter and Joe Zawinul were trying as they jammed their way toward Weather Report.

Corea also continued to explore such territory, and in 1972 asked Airto and Purim, then pregnant with their daughter Diana, to join the band that would become known as Return to Forever. When I asked her about her place in fusion, she credited five bands equally as forging the new path: Weather Report, Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra the English blues band Ten Years After (Purim loves blues-rock, and still keeps a copy of Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow by her bedside for nightly listening.), and that first Return To Forever ensemble. "These five bands led the way of the evolution of jazz," she said. "There will always be people singing bebop and swing because they love it. They will be there taking care of that history. We were younger, we needed to move ahead. Yeah, [it] was a statement — let's open up."

Jazz fusion created many powerful and surprising alliances. If You Will honors two of the fusion pioneers with whom Purim most closely bonded: Corea, who died in 2021, and George Duke, who died in 2013. Purim was making the album when Corea succumbed to cancer, and the album's version of RTF's "500 Miles High" (also the title track on her own brilliant 1974 live album) is as tender as it is effervescent, with a final section that sends off Corea's spirit in loving hymnitude.

"I was overwhelmed with people trying to interview me [after Corea's death]," Purim said. "I didn't make any statements or say anything. Instead I decided to re-record the first song he ever played for me when he invited me to form a group with him. That song is a classic and I rearranged it to sound a bit different, but it sounds good."

In the early 1970s, with her hand on the door to American jazz's new era, Purim was missing a similar shift in Brazil. She'd left just as Tropicalismo, the culturally and politically revolutionary movement that gave the world groovy bands like Os Mutantes and songwriter-activists like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, emerged. Purim appreciates the "screaming guitar" and Beatles influence of those artists — "I'm in touch with [Os Mutante member] Sergio Dias. In fact, he called me yesterday asking if I had an Echoplex" — but her heart was in jazz in those heady days. Her distance from Tropicalismo may be one reason Purim hasn't often been centered in Brazilian-music hipster revivals since the 1980s, which tend to focus on that movement's plastic fantastic stylings. Yet she did play a significant role in elevating other Brazilians' profiles in the U.S., helping fund Milton Nascimento's first trip to Los Angeles from Bahia and consistently featuring Brazilian composers and players on her recordings.

By the mid-1970s, sounds from throughout the Latinx world had permeated not just jazz but pop. Airto was recording with pop stars like Joni Mitchell and The Carpenters; Purim appeared on two Santana albums. She applied her expanding sense of what vocals could be to these sessions as well. "When Carlos invited me, I walked into the session, and there was a song for me. I sang it and improvised a little jazz thing. Then for the next record, he invited me, and it was a Jobim song. Yet I used the sounds of the forest and all the things, and made all kinds of sounds."

The Brazilian sense of music as connected to the sounds of the everyday world runs through everything Flora and Airto have touched from the 1970s to the present day, and helped fundamentally arrange pop's possibilities at a time when the walls around genres were crumbling. In discussions of jazz fusion, Latin influences tend to receive only a passing acknowledgment as both fans and critics focus on the tensions between jazz and rock or jazz and funk. Yet Purim's understanding of music as the enemy of purism — "being pure is something of a Nazi thing," says this Jewish woman — evokes the way different Latin elements, from the that definitive Brazilian 2/4 time signature to Jose Feliciano's "not flamenco" guitar to Don Alias's pan-Caribbean percussion technique, defeated the binaries that prevalent ideas about jazz fusion foregrounded. Broaden the conversation to acknowledge these musicians from complicated, colonized homelands, and the story is no longer rock versus jazz, or funk versus jazz, or rock versus funk. It's more complicated, syncretic and mobile.


The utopian spirit Purim brought into her music-making didn't exempt her from prejudice in her daily life. As a white Jewish woman, she did not face the same kind of racism her Black bandmates encountered; yet she was exoticized, her talent misread as something other than hard-won artistry. "On stage Flora moves with a jangled, frenetic energy, laden with silver bracelets, looking for all the world like an exotic cockatoo," one reviewer wrote in 1976. Another lasciviously extolled "an ethereal, mysterious, Third World quality that puts you in touch with ever subtler, crueler, more ecstatic regions of inner space," later noting that Purim's "accented English... will drive you wild."

These enthusiastic misreadings emblematize how immigrants, especially from non-white European countries, have often been viewed in America as tantalizingly attractive yet somehow dangerous. It's hard to not consider that the single most disastrous event in Purim's life, her arrest and later conviction on charges of drug possession, and confinement for 18 months on Terminal Island in Los Angeles, was predestined by her Brazilian identity. Purim has always maintained her innocence, saying in interviews and in her 1982 book Freedom Song that she was caught up in a raid at a friend's apartment, and that drug agents, assuming that she was a drug ring's "Brazilian connection," lied in court to convict her. And though 18 months is a relatively light sentence for drug possession, the court did not take into consideration the testimonies of many notable musicians pleading for leniency — or the fact that Purim's daughter Diana was an infant during her incarceration. Even after her release Purim faced the threat of deportation for years, and the whole family struggled with PTSD. She and Airto stopped touring as a pair for a while after her release, Purim told People magazine in 1978, because "every time we leave together, the girls think we are not coming back."

Diana is now a successful singer and composer in her own right, who followed in her parent's path personally too: She's married to the beat-boxer Krishna Booker, the son of the late jazz bassist Walter Booker and the nephew of Wayne Shorter, and like her parents, they are each others' chief collaborators. Krishna, Diana, and Flora's older daughter Niura all appear on If You Will. The album's first single, in fact, is a reimagining of a song Diana wrote about her mother's jail experience, which Flora recorded on her 2005 album Flora's Song.

"I got in trouble with the law in America, and every time I left, it came back," Purim explained, referring to the threat of deportation that haunted her in the years after her imprisonment. "I never knew if I was going to be allowed in. So in the song Diana describes me waiting in line. Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I here? That was the original.

"In this version, I sing in Portuguese. It's not quite the same approach, it's a little more poetic. I sing, 'I am in this cage,' like, where you put birds, you know, a strong cage. And the door is open, I can come in and go. It's the opposite of the other thing. I fly away anytime I want. And when I'm hungry and cold, I come back in, I feed myself, and I go again. I thought that was a good message. You know, never cage a songbird because the cages are not soundproof, first of all. And second, when you have somebody that you love, you should always leave the door open because if there is really love, the person may wander a little bit here and there, but they will always be back. Because there is real love."

Purim's time at Terminal Island was harrowing, as she's described it; her memoir Freedom Song, co-authored by fellow Terminal Island inmate and renowned novelist Eddie Bunker, is full of scenes of brutality among guards and other inmates. What got her through was her ability to retreat into her imagination — and the 10,000 letters from music fans she received while inside. In a cruel twist of fate, Purim's jazz reputation grew during her time in prison: She enjoyed her first two DownBeat jazz poll wins, and her solo album Stories To Tell, recorded up to the day before she was jailed, became a hit. She even persuaded prison officials to let her stage a concert at Terminal Island in March 1975 with an all-star band that included Airto and, among others, Cannonball Adderley and George Duke. A bootleg recording of the concert is available online. Singing, Purim sounds unfettered yet melancholy. At one point she introduces Airto as "my old man... the reason I'm happy all the time at the house stall," a reference to the family visits prisoners were allowed twice a week.


After Terminal Island, Purim dove hard into music-making with Airto by her side. "I've been out of prison three months and I'm full of aggression," she told Stephen Davis of The New York Times. "On this tour we only do faster songs. I would love to sing more ballads, but music should reflect life and my life is not a ballad right now." Her reign as a jazz royal grew more secure as she released not only quintessential fusion projects like Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly but pop forays like the string-laden Everyday, Everynight and art pieces including Encounter, a collaboration with fellow fusion vocalists Googie Coppola and Urszula Dudziak. Coppola and Dudziak were also daring vocalists who happened to be married to noted jazz fusion musicians. "I really love that album," Purim said. "Urszula was classically trained; Googie and I were not. But together we made it happen — three different instruments, and each one of them melting with each other and mirroring. That's why I called it Encounter, mirroring and separating and mirroring again and always encountering."

Though filed by most critics in the jazz bin, Encounter eludes classification, operating within the same universe as works by Meredith Monk, Annette Peacock and even Yoko Ono. I asked Purim if Ono was someone who felt like kin. "Hmmm," she said with a laugh. "A little bit, but she was so much more radical than I'd ever be. She was willing to die for it, whereas I was not." After reminding me that Ono did not break up the Beatles — "John did!" — Purim shared a memory of the "real musician" in that band, Paul McCartney, who would often show up at the famed jazz enclave Ronnie Scott's during the frequent residencies she and Airto played there over the years. "He had the band Wings at the time," she recalled. "And their drummer Denny Seiwell was American, and my neighbor. So he said, Paul, let's go see this band, you'll love it. Afterward she showed up backstage like a groupie, he'd bought all our albums and wanted them signed. After that, every time he was in town, he'd show up. They had a small table on the side, so people wouldn't notice he was there. He'd come in and sit, and when we'd be playing the last song he'd run to the dressing room and hide."

Purim and Airto's connection to classic rockers extended beyond one Beatle fanboying for them in a London club. Mickey Hart had seen Airto playing with Miles Davis in 1970, when his Bitches Brew band opened for his band the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore West, then called the Carousel Ballroom. "I saw this guy crawling around on the floor, kind of foraging for percussion instruments," Hart told me. "I had never seen that before. And so that was my firsthand introduction to the great maestro, Airto Moreira. And then he started to play, and he was a force of nature. He wasn't like a percussionist, a normal percussionist. He was shaking, rattling, hitting — bang! — but beautifully precise and poetic. And awesome .... Years later, when Francis Coppola approached me to do the underscore for Apocalypse Now, the first person I thought of was Airto, so I called him. He said, right on, I'll be coming up there."

Hart was delighted that Purim joined Airto for that session, which produced the moody sounds deep within the soundtrack that made Coppola's jungle nightmare so vivid. "Flora had the ability to sing like a bird," he said, and he wasn't speaking metaphorically. Improvising the underscore during a screening of the film's rough cut, Purim, always in control, allowed herself to become possessed. At the film's climax, when the ritual killing of a bull is intercut with the death throes of Marlon Brando's mad soldier Kurtz, it's Purim who connects the animal spirit to the human one.

"I had to do the transition form the animal grunt to Brando's cry of death," Purim told a reporter in 1980. "Francis had us all sitting in a screening room around a microphone, holding hands, with our eyes closed. He explained to us all the pain he went through when he was filming it, a lot of anxiety and pain. And my scream was so strong that when I finished I was shaking for 10 minutes and for the next two weeks I couldn't recover from it."

Hart, Airto and Purim followed this cinematic foray with a psychedelic trek of their own: The album Däfos is another high point of experimentalism in Purim's career, the "musical ethnography of an imaginary country" conjured live onstage with Jose Lorenzo's percussion ensemble Batucaje in 1983. Later she and Airto joined Hart's Planet Drum ensemble — the "20st century gamelan" he assembled including master percussionists from all over the world.

"Airto and Flora's influence on American music was tremendous," Hart said. "You can hear it in the jazz singers. And you can hear it in the percussionists playing free like Airto. There was an enormous wave of enthusiasm for their kind of groove. Everybody was just happy to be with each other on Planet Drum and to to create a new music — the coming together of rhythmic cultures. It was very powerful, we loved it."

Planet Drum, the group's first release, won Purim one of two Grammy awards in 1992; the other was for her work with Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra. Entering her 50s, she still strode across musical divides with the ease of a supernatural being, whether spending hours with Gillespie in his dressing room after the Orchestra's dates soaking up his stories of playing with her early idols or convening with Zakir Hussain and Babatunde Olatunji within the Planet Drum universe. "Mickey is visionary," Purim said. "He's got a really good idea of futuristic music. Also, he travels. He goes around the world and likes being where he's at."


Purim continued her own musical travels into the '90s and 2000s. 1994's Speed of Light melds her original jazz fusion style with the acid jazz filling European dance floors in that decade. In 2001 she returned to the jazz side for the gorgeous Perpetual Emotion, a quiet set that's no less powerful or daring than her more electric material. Her tribute to Milton Nascimento, from that same era, is a loving and perceptive journey into her old friend's songbook. And she had continued to expand her palette through collaboration. The group Fourth World paired her and Airto with a cosmopolitan array of bandmates, most notably the São Paulo-born guitarist Jose Neto, whose work on If You Will brings that Hendrix-style spark Purim still adores. Fourth World released four albums in the 1990s; its sound incorporated everything from beatboxing and EDM-style beats to indigenous folk and smooth jazz. Later, Flora appeared with Diana and Krishna's equally eclectic band Eyedentity; they return the favor on If You Will, co-writing several songs with Krishna providing arrangements and Diana contributing several featured vocals. "She's got some of mine," Purim says of her daughter, who grew up on the road with her parents. "But she's got her own. She went into hip-hop, trip hop, everything. And she's got the blues down."

<em>If You Will</em> includes collaborations with Purim's husband and her daughters, as well as new versions of songs she performed earlier in her career with Chick Corea and George Duke.
Mel Gabardo / Courtesy of the artist
/
Courtesy of the artist
<em>If You Will</em> includes collaborations with Purim's husband and her daughters, as well as new versions of songs she performed earlier in her career with Chick Corea and George Duke.

As Purim continued to follow her jazz sensibility into the 21st century, still making the jazz charts with her occasional solo albums, her voice also intrigued new listeners. She and Airto became favorites of remixers, especially in Europe. "When they began remixing my music, at first I didn't like it," she said. "I said, 'No, you're going to break my music in pieces!' But then I went to Camden Market in London, and in the basement of one club they had this very hidden disco that all the dancers knew about." There, Purim heard Bellini's "Samba de Janeiro" for the first time – one of the biggest European chart successes of 1997. The party anthem is based around a sample from Airto's 'Celebration Suite," which also features Flora. Residuals from that massive hit unexpectedly helped pay Purim's bills that year.

Roberta Cutolo herself found Flora on a dance floor. As part of London's secular church of disco, Lucky Cloud Sound System, she'd learned the value of connecting current club scenes to the histories undergirding them. She decided she needed to work with Purim after seeing her and Airto perform at Gilles Peterson's annual Worldwide Festival in Sete, France, in 2019. "After seeing the response she and Airto received, l felt it was very important that their music would be now experienced by new audiences who had started to get closer to jazz," she told me. "I also wanted to give voice to a woman who had lived all her life following her dream and who, despite all odds, had fought for freedom and human rights and never stopped believing in herself. I felt there was more we could get from Flora – in that moment in time she was what people needed."

The two women began working on If You Will before the pandemic and brought it to fruition despite the challenges that the past few years of stumbling lockdown posed. Recorded both remotely and in person with an intergenerational band from all across Brazil, the album caps Purim's career by ingeniously connecting her past with the present day. Juxtaposing fresh versions of a handful of her classic collaborations with songs that reflect the many phases of her musical life, it journeys musically through the varied soundscapes of Brazilian jazz and features several of Purim's favorite collaborators, including the guitarist Jose Neto, the percussionist Celso Alberti, and Diana Purim, who in her featured moments shows how her style both complements and diverges from her mother's. Airto also appears, and, it's needless to say, rhythm drives the whole set. "I am in Brazil and Brazil is where the greatest percussion in the world happens to be, so I got percussionists from everywhere," Purim said. Her collaborators eagerly accepted her invitation despite the project's modest independent-label budget. "Most of the musicians involved got paid the minimum amount," she continued. "Some didn't even charge me because they wanted to be a part of this thing. They think this is history."

Music's mood in 2022 is realigning with Purim's legacy. If You Will sounds like the unfettered jazz-rock-Latin-whatever that's moving ears and feet on playlists and in clubs in London, New York and Los Angeles now. Neto provides the heat that she still enjoys; Diana's vocals enrich her mother's while showcasing her own impressive power. The young Brazilian producer Mika Mutti, who's worked with Sergio Mendes on his recent comeback albums, convinced Purim to try new combinations of acoustic and electric music; the update of the title track "If You Will," originally a George Duke track, reinvigorates the funky-smooth original arrangement with fresh beats. "I said, let's keep it this way," Purim said. "George would like it, because it doesn't sound like him."

The track that perhaps best captures the spirit of Purim's return is "Dandara," a song that, like her music, eradicates boundaries of space and time. The lyrics for this ballad about a legendary indigenous woman warrior, wife of the last king of the rebel slave enclave of Quilombo dos Palmares, were written by the 70-year-old poet Judith de Souza. Felipe Machado, de Souza's grandson, wrote the music when he was 14 years old. The spare yet somehow beautifully lush track, highlighting Purim's voice at its storytelling best, was arranged by Felipe's grandfather, the renowned São Paulo singer-songwriter Filó Machado. "It felt so good," Purim said. "Not just because it came from them, but because it's exactly what I wanted to have as a representation of where my heart it right now." Purim's heart, it's no surprise, is where it's always been, looking to the future while honoring the family connections that form the foundation from which it grows. That's the lesson of Flora Purim's music and her life: The true art of flying resides in knowing how to return to solid ground.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.