When the great wordsmith in the sky invented the word "gorgeous" She might have been thinking of this album, a celebration of all that is lovely about Brazilian music, from samba and choro through bossa nova and jazz.
On the face of it, Hendrik Meurkens is not the most likely outsider to have gotten so deep inside the Brazilian tradition. Of Dutch ancestry, he was brought up in the grimy German port of Hamburgabout as far as you can get, literally and figuratively, from Sugar Loaf Mountain and Copacabana beach. But he's no cultural tourist or superficial fusionista. After leaving college in the early '80s, already in love with Brazilian music, he moved to Rio so as to immerse himself more totally in it.
Meurkens is today regarded as a soul brother by many of Brazil's leading musicians, some of whom contribute to this wonderfully joyful and restorative album. And if you're thinking the harmonica is an acquired taste, there can surely be no better place to acquire it. Meurkens' playing is a revelation: lyrical, expressive, and more harmonically adventurous than a casual listening might suggest.
What we have on Amazon River is a series of ravishingly beautiful melodies, underscored by Brazil's uniquely subtle and irresistible dance rhythms. The core of the band is made up of Meurkens, pianist Helio Alves, bassist Nilson Matta, and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. On all but two tracks, this quartet is joined by some of Brazil's greatest percussion and string players. Guest guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves also contributes sympatico string arrangements to three tracks.
Lush, sunlit, and vibrantly coloured from start to finish, every track is a little masterpiece. Randomly selected highlights include Meurkens' exquisite chorinhos "Menina Na Janela," featuring Robson Cerqueira on bandolim, a Brazilian version of the mandolin; deep tenor vocalist Dori Caymmi's rapturous love songs "Amazon River" and "O Cantador"; the core quartet's more or less straight-ahead jazz workouts "Passarim" and "Meu Canario Vizinho Azul"; the virile and loose-limbed samba "Piano Na Mangueira"; and Jobim & Moraes' classic bossa nova "Ela E Carioca," on which Meurkens exchanges the harmonica for the vibraphone.
49 minutes rarely pass so quicklybut you can always hit the repeat button. I've been doing that all afternoon.
Mountain Drive; Amazon River; Menina Na Janela (The Girl In The Window); Passarim; Ela E Carioca; Lingua De Mosquito (Mosquito Tongue); O Cantador; Meu Canario Vizinho Azul; The Peach; Sem Voce; Piano Na Mangueira.
Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica and vibes; Helio Alves: piano; Nilson Matta: bass; Duduka
Da Fonseca: drums and percussion; Pedro Ramos: cavaquinho; Ze Mauricio: percussion;
Jorge Amorim: percussion; Cassio Duarte: percussion; Dori Caymmi: vocal and guitar (2,7);
Paquito D'Rivera: clarinet (6,9); Oscar Castro-Neves: guitar, and vocal (5,10); Robson
Cerqueira: bandolim (3); Guilherme Monteiro: guitar (3).
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.