He's even got lovely plumage; a capacious kaftan that billows as he flits between the various perches of his kit, from bangable work surfaces of every imaginable sort to wreaths of shells and gourds to be shaken. He opens each number with a leisurely forage among the undergrowth of his instruments, shaking something here, hitting something there and all the time burbling out imprecations in his native Portuguese or the African dialects of Brazil.
It really is something to see and the range of sounds he comes up with is rich beyond compare. And with only a tambourine, a whistle and a microphone (in his by now well-established party piece) he drums up the sound of a Rio samba school at carnival time, holding the audience spellbound.
When the intros end and the band begins to play, Moreira switches to a more or less conventional trap drum kit, proving himself to be a truly great drummer. The band are no slouches either; this may well be the ultimate power trio - certainly it's the most versatile. Gary Meek plays keyboards with one hand and flute or sax with the other, covering tenor, alto and soprano with equal skill. Jose Neto plays guitar, plucking the strings with his fingers to ease the transition from mellow Spanish-guitar sounds to fusion technoflash, and covering up the lack of a bass with nifty thumb strokes. For part of each set they are joined by the vocalist Flora Purim, Moreira's wife, who is on top form, switching between wordless scat and sensuous ballads. Perhaps the lyrics are best in Portuguese, though, when you can't understand them. Airto and Flora are spiritually inclined and, in English, the usual platitudes about love and harmony can grate a bit.
The group - a regular January fixture at Ronnie Scott's - are leaning more heavily on rock references than last year and the piratically-garbed Neto seems to be only slightly suppressing a desire to be a fully-fledged axe hero. But the energy and commitment of the performance, the wonderful interplay between the instruments (the band have been together for years and are tight as, well, a drum) and, most of all, Moreira's transcendent gift with shake, rattle and roll, make them an act to see and see again.
Fourth World continue at Ronnie Scott's, 47 Frith Street, London W1 (071-439 0747) to 5 Feb.
Airto's new album, 'Killer Bees', featuring Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and Hiram Bullock, with Airto Moreira and the Gods of Jazz, is on B&W MusicReuse content