Flora Purim arrived on the American jazz scene in the late 1960s, around the time when Brazilian-influenced percussion and fusion were riding high. Not surprisingly, her discography is heavy on both sounds: percussion courtesy of her husband, Airto Moreira, and fusion via collaborators such as Chick Corea, Stanely Clarke, and George Duke. As vocalist in the original (1971-73) version of Corea’s band Return to Forever (which also featured Clarke and saxophonist Joe Farrell as well as Moreira), her light, airy vocals were in keeping with the group’s overall bright sound.
Purim cut a total of six albums for Orrin Keepnews’ Milestone label, all produced by Keepnews himself. Butterfly Dreams is generally acknowledged to be not only one of the best of her Milestone projects, but one of the best albums in her discography overall. There is a freshness to her voice here that is not always evident in later work, although she has remained a consistently interesting vocalist to listen to. It doesn’t hurt that her collaborators here are among her most sympathetic. Clarke and Moreira help keep the RTF vibe ever-present on this recording, while Joe Henderson and keyboard whiz George Duke fit right into the overall sound. David Amaro adds a little texture on both acoustic and electric guitar. Though he isn’t given all that much to do, he does manage a rock-star electric solo on Clarke’s “Dr. Jive (Part 2)” and “Light as a Feather”. Ernie Hood is credited on zither, but his contributions are rather minimal and kept far in the background, in Keepnews’ words, “basically because we were unable to properly integrate it.”
Since Purim was, at the time, a member of Moreira’s Fourth World Band, she had no band of her own at the time this record was cut, and so we are treated to hearing Airto play not only percussion, but drums throughout. He’s an energetic drummer, with shades of Tony Williams. Moreira always leaves space for Clarke’s bass, Purim’s vocals, and his own percussion, percolating nicely without filling up every corner.
As for Purim, her voice is excellent here, and her wordless vocals, sometimes multi-tracked to produce near-orgiastic explosions of vocal-as-pure-sound, predate the similar work of vocalists such as Grazyna Auguscik. Stanley Clarke is everywhere on this disc, both as bassist and as composer/arranger. Clarke contributed or co-wrote half the tracks here: “Dr. Jive” (Parts one and two), “Butterfly Dreams,” and “Light as a Feather.” Purim’s native land is represented by Jobim’s “Dindi” and Gismonti’s “Moon Dreams.” There’s a standard, “Summer Night,” and a track co-written by George Duke and Purim, “Love Reborn.” George Duke is also omnipresent on this album, playing a variety of keyboards, including piano, electric piano, clavinet, and ARP synthesizer. He too was entering a highly fertile musical period which would find him collaborating simultaneously (though in different bands) with Cannonball Adderley and Frank Zappa.
For those who enjoy light-sounding (as opposed to light on musical ideas) fusion tinged with Latin elements and airy, roomy vocalization, Butterfly Dreams is the perfect ticket. Remastered in beautiful 24-bit sound, it’s easy to imagine this being popular with a lot of adult listeners if it were to be released today. Get it while it’s hot!