FLORA PURIM

Born in Rio de Janeiro, 6 March 1942, Flora was raised in a musical family. Her Ukrainian father was the leading violinist with the Rio Symphony Orchestra and her Brazilian mother was a classical pianist who packed Flora off to piano lessons at the age of eight. As a child she played both piano and guitar before she began to stretch her voice. Her vocal range originally covered about three octaves, but under the guidance of Hermeto Pascoal she gradually increased it to the staggering figure of six.
During the mid Sixties, Pascoal was the co-leader, with percussionist Airto Moreira, of Quarteto Novo, a legendary Brazilian group which mixed jazz with radical protest songs in defiance of the repressive regime of the time. After an initial series of personal confrontations when they first met, Flora and Airto realised they were made for each other and formed what has proven to be an enduring marital and professional partnership. For thirty years, Moreira and Purim have been inseparable, touring and recording constantly together. Their creative and dynamic relationship brings together one of the world’s greatest percussionists with a top jazz vocalist producing astounding musical results that can be heard on the many albums they have recorded together.

Flora Purim

Following a military coup in Brazil in 1967, and the rigid system of lyrical censorship,the couple went to live in the United States, where they became deeply involved in the scene responsible for producing the first commercially successful ‘electric’ jazz groups of the seventies. Flora toured Europe with Stan Getz and developed her astonishing vocal repertoire with the Gil Evans band before joining Chick Corea, Airto, Stanley Clarke and Joe Farrell in the original ‘Return To Forever’. She jammed with Carlos Santana and Janis Joplin at outdoor festivals during the seventies in California and featured on several classic albums with Corea and Airto including ‘Light As A Feather’.
To describe Flora’s utterly unique vocal style with reference to other singers is misleading and inappropriate. Most singers stick to the words of the song, or perhaps they scat somewhat, but while she interprets a lyric with more emotion than most can muster, Flora also experiments wordlessly, emitting a raw squeak like a dolphin screaming or laughing like she’s sobbing without ever losing touch with the melody and always in rhythm. "I don’t sing ballads"; she told Pauline Melville in an interview for Straight No Chaser magazine, "When I sing lyrics, of course I mean them, but I like to free myself. Words can sometimes limit the imagination. Music speaks for itself."

Flora Purim

In 1986 Flora collaborated once again with her husband on an album called ‘The Magicians’, for which she was nominated for a Grammy award. In 1992 she went one better by singing on two Grammy-winning albums: ‘Planet Drum’ with the Grateful Dead’s drummer, Mickey Hart (Best World Music Album) and ‘The Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra’ (Best Jazz Album). It was Dizzy who introduced Flora to the religion of Baha’i, to which she has become committed. Flora has received two Grammy awards for Best Female Jazz Performance and was voted Downbeat magazine’s Best Female Singer for four consecutive years.
Flora Purim

The launch of Airto’s Latin jazz band, Fourth World in 1993 with new guitar hero Jose Neto and keys ‘n’ reeds maestro, Gary Meek marked a new era in Flora’s career. Safe in the supportive hands of an understanding record label, Flora set out to win over the next wave of listeners. Fourth World is a unique musical collaboration, a hybrid of Jazz-rock and world music with richly textured percussion and vibrant Latin influences. It is a truly organic fusion of sounds and influences that is way ahead of its time. The group’s final statement Last Journey (BW2122) to the Fourth World present’s Flora’s tribute to the late Ronnie Scott entitled ‘Little Tear’.
Gigs at The Forum in London and collaborations with Giles Peterson and Patrick Forge led to Flora and Airto guesting on several Acid Jazz recordings, including the James Taylor Quartet’s Supernatural Feeling and Urban Species’ Listen, and Giles subsequently helped Andrew Missingham to remix tracks from her first solo album for M.E.L.T., Speed Of Light (BW044).
‘Speed of Light’ re-launched Flora as a solo artist in her own right, reminding us of her eternally sublime vocal talent. Switching from ritualistic chants to lightly swaying salsa, there is a colourful blend of flutes, lush electric sounds and dazzling percussion.
"This album is not a ‘singer’ album, so I would listen to this with something else in mind other than checking the strength of my singing," she explains. "It’s the composition of the album itself, the music and the trippy feeling that’s important. It’s a soundtrack to my life." Recorded at both the Sound Design studio in Santa Barbara and Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio under the guidance of innovative engineer Geoff Gillette, Speed of Light was a year in the making and, conceptually, it spans an incredible range of musical styles. Scanning the credits, there are names like Changuito (the Cuban master congalero),Giovanni Hidalgo and Billy Cobham who all came together to pay homage to this stunning jazz diva. In all, it is a remarkable modernist venture that has deep roots; a labour of love that is youthful, celebratory and wildly ambitious.

Flora Purim

It was at this time that Flora was rediscovered by a new generation of young jazz enthusiasts in London. One Sunday she dropped into a Gilles Peterson Talkin’ Loud session at Dingwalls to see if what she’d heard about a revival of some of her classics was true. The DJ played ‘Samba de Flora’ and the place went mad. "I felt goose bumps because the whole floor, everybody, got up and danced like maniacs. I could not believe it," she told Jazz On CD magazine in April 1995.