IF you ever wonder what MILES DAVIS' "BITCHES BREW", "LIVE EVIL" and "BIG FUN", RETURN TO FOREVER'S First two albums, and WEATHER REPORT's FIRST ALBUM have in common, you might come up with TWO answers. First, they were the best ROCK FUSION albums by the best ROCK FUSION bands. Second, AIRTO MOREIRA plays on all of those titles. So, when you see a BEST OF collection of the first 3 album AIRTO recorded for CTI records, (FREE, FINGERS and VIRGIN LAND), along with a couple of live cuts with DEODATO, you might consider giving that BEST OF a listen. The overall sound for AIRTO's "Best of" album has remarkable coherence, yet remains inventive and open to various sounds, and cultural influences. So dont worry, you wont be getting a "Sampler album" of Brazilian cha-chas, Sambas, Cumbias, Bossa Nova rythyms. Additionally, Airto's wife FLORA sings on some of the cuts. Actually, the various songs at times sound very close to the bands he had inhabited, when AIRTO was one of the hottest percussionists on the planet. The opening song CREEK (with Joe Farrell and Chick Corea)could easily pass for an outtake from the first RETURN TO FOREVER album, no doubt because Chick and Joe, who play on this song, were in RTF with Airto at the same time. FLORA's SONG, with Bert LAWS on flute, and Keith Jarrett banging piano, sounds a bit closer to some of MILE's Bitches Brew era outtakes. Let me testify, with the scat singing, and uptempo Brazilian beats, this song COOKS. ROMANCE OF DEATH, could be a cross between RTF, and Weather Report. (Tho Airto's early material most closely calls to mind his work with RETURN TO FOREVER, with an added touch of fusion MILES). The scat singing for the melody's head, sounds wonderful. AND, best of all, you have Airto's almost endless collection of Percussion instruments creating a beautifully woven textural tapestry of sound. Each note is memorable, nothing is over-intellectualized or under-emoted. LYDIAN RIFF has a beautiful middle eastern modal vibe, that brings you into the Sultan's tent, strange and heavy spices in the air, listening to the OBOE/bassoon, and Oriental melisma's by FLora. (Add in the keyboard lines floating in from the desert night, and the overall vibe is transporting in the BEST SENSE of the word.) Even the guitar licks by Gabriel Delorme could have been copied from an oud or Saz. Again, WORLD MUSIC, but not from Brazil. STANLEY's TUNE is upbeat, groovin', with talking drums from Africa, and lots of exotic sounds hard to place. THe scat singing doesnt sound quite like anything you've heard before, maybe cos it has a rock/blues sound, but it definately sounds like you want to hear MORE. STANLEY CLARK on bass, and GEORGE DUKE on keyboards (recorded when DUKE was playing with Zappa's MOTHERS), with AMARO on guitar, pulls together a bit of RTF, and ZAPPA, with AIRTO's own sound. The two live songs that finish off the album, with the Brazilian Keyboardist DEODATO, completes the circle. These songs are bright, hot Brazilian music...almost Tropicalia, almost Carneval.
Before I bought this BEST OF, I thought I'd stick my toe into AIRTO's solo music, since I'd only known him as a percussionist with all those great fusion bands. This was a chance purchase I'll never regret. I already ordered FREE, and I'm sure I'll be buying FINGERS and VIRGIN LAND. Not all the CTI recordings from the 1970s were fantastic albums. SOme were overproduced with strings, and others point towards the direction of SMOOTH JAZZ that caresses our ears in elevators everywhere nowadays. However, AIRTO, at least with the outtakes from these early solo fusion albums, all with top names from the genre, kept his music arresting, HOT and COOL at the same time. THere's enough variety to keep from becoming bored, and enough cohesion in the music, that a definate style emerges brewed from the bands AIRTO inhabited when FUSION was being invented, and concurrently perfected. SO, if you love MILE's fusion, early Return to Forever, early WEATHER REPORT, or even mid 70s ZAPPA, or perhaps David Burn's REI MOMO, you will enjoy this album. About the only BAD thing, is what will you do with the CD once you end up buying all the albums its been compiled from?