Both were born in Brazil; both use Brazilian music and rhythmic forms as a base for extrapolation. They met briefly in Brazil in 1965, when Airto was a rising musical star there. They met again in 1968, when Purim was studying music in California. They married in 1972. With the exception of a two-year period in the '70s, when Purim was jailed for cocaine possession, the two have been inseparable.
Purim has said that she was framed and was innocent of the charges, and that the only good to come from the incident was musical. "I was in prison for two years," she says. "That's where I learned to sing the blues."
She and Airto tour together, compose together and share their shows - with
neither dominating. They are appearing this weekend at the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel. Although Purim tends to sing best in her native Portuguese, she is very much a do-it-all stylist, with an astonishing, almost otherworldly, six-octave range that doesn't need any of the electronics she sometimes uses.
Airto is proof positive that the percussionist's art will never be replaced by synthesizers. Somewhere during their set, Airto sits down with a tambourine and manages to make it melodic and rhythmic. He is one of the original "big toy" percussionists, coming off clever and playful in concert, turning his collection of drums, gourds, cymbals and other devices into playthings.
They have made 20 albums over the years, alone and together. While Purim is most famous for her work with Return to Forever, her backing vocals with George Duke, Stanley Clarke and McCoy Tyner gave their compositions a spicy, exotic sound. Airto's work as a session man is even more impressive. He's played with popsters Paul Simon and Chicago, fusion rockers Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin, jazz legends Miles Davis and Art Blakey, musical chameleons Herbie Hancock and Stan Getz, and with fellow Brazilians Sergio Mendes and Deodato.
"You understand, I don't particularly like the Brazilian music of today," he says. "They play poor imitations of American music, the Stones or Phil Collins."
Airto and Flora Purim's music uses Brazilian forms as a point of departure, moving into more varied styles and directions. Purim likes to sing the blues, scat and even torch songs, mirroring the many experiences of the couple's years in the United States.
"We don't want to play music with aggression," Airto says. "No bad vibes. Music is supposed to make you feel good, supposed to pick you up when you're feeling down."
Expect several pick-me-ups in their sets at the Hershey.
Flora Purim and Airto and the Acoustic Magic Band at the Bar at the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel, Broad and Locust Streets, tonight through Sunday. Show times are 8:30, 10 and 11:30 tonight and Saturday; 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $16. Phone: 248-5802.