Airto Moreira of Brazil is considered one of the finest percussionists in the world. For more than a decade, he was numero uno. And, he says, it wasn't a gas.

"Everybody was saying I was the best," he says in his heavy accent, "so I had the responsibility to live up to their expectations. But I ended this way of thinking years ago.

"After 10 years being considered the number one percussionist, it becomes like going on a trip on an airplane. The first few trips are exciting, but it becomes routine."

Airto's percussion goes way beyond drums and tambourine. He has a special rack that he designed so he can play shakers, rattles, gourds and his Chinese cymbal almost simultaneously. He likes to believe that he's always taking percussion to a new level. Pushing to extremes never before explored.

"It is a special technique in being a creative musician, a pioneer," he says. "Everything I play is different. I don't play anything that is conventional. Even with the most simple instrument, I spend some time with it and figure out new sounds."

Moreira has collaborated with some of jazz's most accomplished musicians: Chick Corea, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as ensembles such as Weather Report and Return to Forever. He has now formed a new band, Supernova, with his six-octave singing wife Flora Purim, saxophonist Gary Meek and acoustic guitarist Jose Neto.

"This group is very hard to explain," he says. "It's almost like acoustic, but it sounds big and nice and clean. Like if you amplify acoustic music."

Supernova will perform Thursday through Sunday at Blues Alley. Shows are at 8 and 10 p.m., plus midnight shows on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $16. For reservations, call 337-4141.