MUSIC / SANTA BARBARA JAZZ FESTIVAL : Sun, Sand and Song : Fourth annual event on Ledbetter Beach will feature the royal couple of Latin jazz.

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Come this weekend, Ledbetter Beach in Santa Barbara will be besieged by the sounds of jazz and its stylistic cousins when the fourth annual Santa Barbara Jazz Festival hits the sand.

Starting on Friday night and continuing through Sunday evening, music fans can revel in the sounds of such musical acts as Jack Sheldon and his big band, the respected young saxophonist Karl "Sweethorn" Denson (recent winner of the John Coltrane Competition), and the blues of Doug MacLeod, Arthur Adams and Billy G. Watts.

There will be the pop-jazz popcorn of Tom Grant and Zzah! and the hearty Brazilian-jazz brew of Kleber Jorge. From the Santa Barbara jazz scene come sets by flutist Bob Ledner and Jeff Elliott, together with the riveting pianist Theo Saunders.

But the real hot news of this year's line-up, ironically, hits both close to home and far afield into the jazz world at large.

Percussionist Airto Moreira and vocalist Flora Purim, the internationally famed, Brazilian-born partners in life and music, moved to Santa Barbara 10 years ago to get away from life in Los Angeles.

Their collective resume is studded with names such as Miles Davis, Chick Corea (both played in Corea's first Return to Forever), Stan Getz and many luminaries, as well as having carved out their own sturdy niche of notoriety on the global jazz scene.

But it has been several years since they've officially played in the town they now call home.

When they first arrived in Santa Barbara, Moreira and Purim hired virtually the entire ranks of the Santa Barbara-based fusion band The Eraserheads. At the time, the band included Ventura County favorite guitarist Larry Nass, as well as Santa Barbaran trumpeter Jeff Elliott, keyboardist Kei Akagi, the late drummer Tony Moreno and bassist Randy Tico.

While their side musicians now hail from elsewhere and the couple spends as much time away from Santa Barbara as in it, Moreira and Purim say their chosen hometown still plays a pivotal role in their life.

"Santa Barbara is, strategically speaking, perfect for people like us," explained Moreira, who had returned with his wife from a two-month tour of Europe the night before. Purim was unavailable to participate in the interview.

"We travel all over the world. We stay there in certain places for a little while and we know people because we have been there many times.

"In my opinion, Santa Barbara allows you to be yourself and to be creative. At the same time, you're international. In 20 minutes, you are at the airport and you're out of here. I like . . . the power of the nature here."

Their appearance at Ledbetter Beach on Sunday at 7 p.m., just down the road from their house on the Mesa, comes at a point when their career is running hot.

Outside of their own musical endeavors, Moreira and Purim also have been involved in Grammy-winning projects in the past couple of years: Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra album and Mickey Hart's "Planet Drum" album.

The couple's recent European tour included a four-week stint at the celebrated Ronnie Scott's club in London. There, their current band, a quartet called Fourth World, recorded a live album.

Also coming up this year is another studio album project in Europe for a Swiss company and a concert in the Kremlin in Moscow.

At the same time, both Airto and Flora have new album projects on the shelves (both feature input from the other spouse). Moreira's raw, haunting "The Other Side of This," on the Rykodisc label, is a celebration of Moreira's ethnic roots in rural Brazil, with virtually no jazz or other Western music influence.

Meanwhile, Purim's newly-released "Queen of the Night," on the Sound Wave label, is a return to her characteristic Latin jazz genre after a foray into jazz standards on 1989's "The Midnight Sun."

But, by Moreira's account, their various solo projects are secondary to the current band, which has been in existence for about three years.

Moreira is especially enthusiastic about the creative potential of Fourth World, which features him on a combination percussion and drum set-up, Purim on vocals and percussion, Gary Meek on keyboards and saxophones, and Jose Neto on guitar and voice.

"I couldn't compare it with my work, or Flora's," Moreira commented about the group. "It's a whole new direction, very new. See, usually we have a piano player, guitar player and bass player who get together. We would choose the songs and they come up with their own arrangement. Then we all get together and rehearse.

"With this new band, we write the songs together," he added. "It's really a joint effort as far as creativity is concerned."

For Moreira, who doesn't read music and prefers the live musical experience to the stiffness of playing in a recording studio, what makes music rewarding is generating spontaneous magic.

"It always happens in live concerts, but the duration of it is different," Moreira noted. "Sometimes you get to that level for five and ten minutes in an hour, and that's great. You can take the people to that level and back. Even if it's just for 30 seconds, it's important.

"But with this new band, when we start playing, that's when it starts happening. And it goes to the end. Boom. It feels very good."

In short, these are the good old days for the couple, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this year. By this point, they could well be called the royal couple of Latin jazz.

"What I feel now is that me and Flora have been around for quite some time now," Moreira said. "We have been solid with our music and in our work. We're always out there and we're always doing something. We never really stopped to make great plans and take great vacations. We just keep working and creating.

"I think now, whatever we have been doing all these years, is coming back to us. And it feels good."

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Santa Barbara Jazz Festival, Friday through Sunday at Ledbetter Beach in Santa Barbara. Friday, from 6:30 to 10:30, Saturday from 12:30 to 11 p.m.; Sunday from 1:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday night's show is free. Admission on Saturday and Sunday is $5. Info: 962-0800.

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