Outstanding through imperfection: Diana Purim & Eyedentity at SFJAZZ

Leonie Leonida/Staff
Leonie Leonida / Staff

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On a Thursday night in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, sidewalk passers-by paused to gaze into a glass boxlike structure on the corner of Fell and Franklin streets. From outside the SFJAZZ Joe Henderson Lab, many took a moment to watch what the roughly 100 smartly dressed audience members inside had paid to experience: the smooth, sensual captivating Brazilian jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul of Diana Purim & Eyedentity.

The warm and invigorating performance marked the fourth leg of the group’s record release tour in celebration of the release of its third studio album, “Many Bodies, One Mind,” earlier in May. Throughout the evening, Purim, a seasoned singer, and her husband Krishna Booker, a vocalist and percussionist, led an impressive and enjoyable evening of music alongside their band and special guest Justo Almario.

Though audience members knew few fellow attendees upon entering the venue, the space felt comfortable and familiar almost as soon as the group began to warm up. The performers smiled and swayed to their music, and Purim presented an instantly warm and likable persona from the get-go.  “I’m really honored and grateful to be here,” she beamed, expressing her thankfulness for the opportunity to perform at SFJAZZ and for all those gathered. The audience responded accordingly, voicing its support and praise, and clapping and nodding along to the numbers.

As the faces of the musical group, Purim and Booker excelled in their roles onstage. Granted, both hail from a background of musical excellence — Purim is the daughter of Brazilian jazz icons Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, and Booker is the son of renowned bassist Walter Booker. And yet, both demonstrated an adeptness with their respective crafts that justified their spots onstage even without considering their histories. For instance, Purim preceded the duo’s a cappella cover of “Feeling Good” with multiple minutes of pure vocals — no music, at times not even any words, only Purim’s rich voice washing over her captivated audience. Booker eventually backed her with beatboxing remarkable enough that it was easy to forget the lack of instrumentation in the piece.

Though the two could have easily stolen the show and left their bandmates without recognition, they left ample room for their group’s other members to exhibit their instrumental prowess, which each did with gusto. Oakland-born keyboardist extraordinaire and UC Berkeley music instructor Frank Martin boasted a series of especially outstanding solos on the keys, providing numbers such as “Acordei” and “This Is Me” with the quick-paced, upbeat energy essential to their successful execution. Almario, the Colombian flute/saxophone virtuoso and the highlighted guest of the evening, also stole the stage periodically. Purim summed up the effect of Almario’s performance throughout the event when she shook her head and hands during his solo in “Liquid Light,” mouthing, “fire, fire, fire,” as she did so.

For all the excellence evident onstage, Diana Purim & Eyedentity experienced its fair share of minor bumps and mix-ups during the performance. A couple of times, in manning the prerecorded background accompaniment, Booker had to start a track over after missing a beat within the first few seconds of the song. Purim also interrupted the set progression briefly between numbers to ask the band what came next, explaining that she wasn’t wearing her glasses and couldn’t clearly see the set list. Nonetheless, the environment of the space proved comfortable, friendly and fun enough for the audience to treat such blips with only more supportive clapping and cheering.

The group closed with one of its older numbers— “Yes I Will,” a heartwarming declaration of Purim and Booker’s adoration for one another, or, in Purim’s words, a “love rap.” The song beautifully voiced a message of support and love and featured solos from all members of the band.

As the audience rose for a standing ovation, whooping and applauding, Purim once again expressed her appreciation. “Thank you guys so much for being a part of this moment,” she said. “It was a big one for us.” Indeed, the group seems to have gained about 100 adoring fans, perhaps even capturing the hearts of some gazing in from the Hayes Valley streets.

Ryan Tuozzolo covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @_rtuo.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab is located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. In fact, it is in the Hayes Valley neighborhood.