Thursday, May 05, 2022

HIFF '22: Resurrection! Airto Moreira & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira came to America for love, following his wife, Flora Purim, but he stayed for the music. Anyone whoever collected CTI Records in the 1970s inevitably bought many Moreira played on, perhaps including the sessions he led for Creed Taylor’s label. He was also a one-time member of Weather Report and Return to Forever. Those are some heavy fusion credits, but Moreira leaped at the chance to play with the band arguably most-steeped in jazz tradition, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Their meeting is documented in producer-director Dale Djerassi’s twenty-one-minute short film, Resurrection! Airto Moreira & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, now screening at film festivals.

Djerassi gives viewers a brief thumbnail sketch of Moreira’s life and career, incorporating some colorful graphics (including an eye, an ear, and a toe, serving as a pictographic pronunciation guide for “Airto”). Moreira himself refers to the stormy drama that complicated his marriage during the 1970s, but he never talks specifically about Purim’s incarceration on a cocaine charge. This is a happy film, so do not expect anyone to dive too deeply into old pains.

Although Purim never appears in
Resurrection, the short documentary is still a family affair. His daughter, vocalist Diana Moreira also performed with him at Preservation Hall and his son-in-law Krishna Booker, the son of Moreira’s old musical comrade Walter Booker, also adds some additional percussion. The Moreiras only had about an hour of rehearsal with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, some of which Djerassi filmed, but the percussionist was clearly comfortable being amongst family and the New Orleans musicians.

In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of
Resurrection is the parallel Moreira draws between the influence Brazilian Carnival exerted on his musical life and New Orleans jazz musicians’ formative experiences with Mardi Gras and second-lining. It turns out Djerassi’s short documentary nicely compliments Jason Berry’s film, City of a Million Dreams, an exploration of the New Orleans jazz funeral tradition, which is also currently playing on the film festival circuit.

Of course, the best part of
Resurrection is hearing the Moreira play with the real deal NOLA jazz musicians. Frankly, when the Moreiras jam with Charlie Gabriel on Ary Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil,” fittingly in Congo Square, a lot of viewers will wish Djerassi had included the entire tune.

Gabriel sounds terrific on clarinet (in Armstrong Park) and on tenor (in the Hall). Listening to Moreira’s wild whistle might bring back memories for longtime fans, yet it fits in perfectly in-concert at hallowed Preservation Hall. Moreira’s tunes “Alue” and “Ande” sound like intriguing choices for his collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but the audience only gets to see loose but evocative rehearsal takes for them.

proves Moreira has survived some hard times and subsequently thrived. That alone makes it a compelling short. Watching him explore his shared cultural affinities with traditional New Orleans jazz musicians in the historic Preservation Hall adds to the significance and to the fun. Djerassi takes a straightforward reportorial approach to filming their meetings, but he adds some lively visuals and captures a lot of swinging music. Highly recommended, Resurrection! Airto Moreira & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band next screens during the hybrid Harlem international Jazz Festival (running May 5-15).