Samba simpática

Brazilian jazz legends sing for others’ supper at Francis House benefit

Airto Moreira generates the rhythms of Brazil.

Airto Moreira generates the rhythms of Brazil.

For rhythmic complexity and sheer intoxicating effect, Brazilian music is king. There’s nothing esoteric about música Brasileira; it’s simply about emotion. Whether the mood is raucous carnival or quiet saudade, Brazilian rhythms constitute a universal language, inducing social connectedness and empathy without the cultural barriers of language, class or ethnicity.

Empathy and social connectedness are also the hallmarks of Sacramento’s Francis House, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of counseling and resource services for Sacramento’s poor and homeless. Francis House will draw intentionally upon the humanist nature of Brazilian music with a benefit concert at the Crest Theatre on February 3, featuring Airto Moreira and Flora Purim.

“Following the tsunami disaster and hurricane Katrina, there was a considerable decrease in local donations,” acknowledged Francis House Program Director Forrest Reed. “Francis House receives support from 17 local churches, but they can only provide for 18 percent of our budget.”

A concert to raise additional funds seemed imperative to Reed, who joined the Francis House staff in early 2006. Prior to that, he’d had a successful career in music sales and management, and previously had produced a benefit concert back in 1993. “It seems like a natural fit,” Reed explained. “It was just a matter of finding the right artists, like Flora and Airto.”

Percussionist Moreira and his wife, Purim, are giants of modern jazz who moved to the United States from Brazil in 1967. Moreira, who reigned as DownBeat magazine’s percussionist of the year 15 years in a row, is a legend among jazz fans and drummers. Most famous for his work with Miles Davis in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Moreira was also a founding member of the jazz-fusion supergroup Weather Report.

Purim is an equally accomplished performer, gifted with a six-octave vocal range. An award-winning solo artist, Purim has collaborated with an array of musicians, from Dizzy Gillespie to Mickey Hart, and was an original member of the pioneering fusion quintet Return to Forever, along with Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell and her husband, Chick Corea.

Reed, himself a percussionist, met Moreira at a drum workshop at the 2005 Esalen Arts Festival. During the course of their conversations, Reed planted the seed for a possible benefit concert, an idea he revived upon his arrival at Francis House. “I called Airto up soon after I became program director here,” Reed said, “and he agreed to headline the show.”

“As artists, and especially as musicians,” Moreira said, “our mission is to act, to use our skills to help people through direct contact and by helping organizations like this one to raise money. It’s a wonderful thing—we help people and then we feel good, too. Either way, we can’t wait around for our governments to rescue people.”

Reed echoes the need for action. “There is certainly a need for as much help as possible. There are other, larger, more widely known organizations that provide help for the poor,” Reed said, “but as a small resource center we try to provide for very specific critical needs.”

The most common of these are transportation and housing. Francis House provides vouchers for bus travel and gasoline, as well as “return to residence” services for those stranded in Sacramento without support. It also provides seven-day hotel vouchers for three families a week—many with small children—through the Family Rescue program.

“We like to focus on giving a hand up, rather than a handout,” Reed continued. A convenient sound bite perhaps, but Francis House’s services bear out that ideal.

“When we assist people who’ve lost their identification—common amongst the homeless—we’ve removed one of the obstacles they face in finding work,” Reed explained. “So, in a larger sense, we work to initiate change toward self-sufficiency.”

Purim believes musicians are charged with similar responsibilities. “Music is the closest thing to God,” she said. “It has the power to lift people through rhythm and sound. The healing power is obvious—even suffering people sing.”

The concert will conclude with a Brazilian-style jam session, a batucada. Opening act Mumbo Gumbo will joining Purim and Moreira onstage for this explosive finale—a stage full of amazing musicians, shaking the roof with samba.