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Hendrik Meurkens/Bill Cunliffe: Cabin In The Sky

Dan Bilawsky By

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Hendrik Meurkens is a natural-born collaborator. That statement might smack of the obvious, as jazz musicians on the whole tend to thrive on a synergistic model, but it need be said with regard to this German-born, New York-based harmonica hero (and vibraphonist of note). Whether engaging in a pas de deux with pianist Misha Tsiganov, sharing top billing with bassist Gabriel Espinosa, fronting a swinging outfit with the legendary Jimmy Cobb stoking the flames behind him, or taking to Brazilian waters with Antonio Adolfo, Meurkens always displays an unusual level of comfort and ease. So it's no surprise to observe the breezy chemistry that came of this studio meeting with pianist Bill Cunliffe.

With a focus on classics and a mostly straightforward outlook, Meurkens and Cunliffe deliver a trouble-free flight. The swinging title track and a "Smoke On The Water"-laced take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" make for an easy take-off and landing, respectively, and the material in between speaks to a partnership built on bonhomie.

These songs are sophisticated in different ways, yet they're all incredibly approachable when placed in the hands of this pair. Whether investigating an emotional uncertainty in Wayne Shorter's "Miyako," taking a cheery stance on Joe Zawinul's "Young And Fine," giving "Invitation" an exhilarating spin," or mining a coolly soulful vein on "Ode To Billie Joe," Meurkens and Cunliffe always find a way to give a song its due while stamping it with their individual and collective spirit(s).

While jazz fare born on the Great White Way and other chestnuts of varied origin and design make up the bulk of the program, originals have their place in the mix here, too. Meurkens' mellifluous "Afternoon," augmented with some Cunliffe-arranged strings, is a highlight; Cunliffe's bluesy "You Don't Know" broadens the color scheme, adding another shade to an already-vibrant picture; "Time To Say Goodbye" plays up the lyrical qualities so notable throughout this entire affair; and "Prague In March" marks Meurkens as a writer of extreme clarity and emotional depth.

If ostentatious offerings and flashy displays are your thing, this one isn't for you. There are plenty of solos to marvel at across this album, but each serves the song without drawing undue attention away from it. Cabin In The Sky may be a first go-round for Meurkens and Cunliffe as a team, but the music doesn't betray that fact. Their rapport is undeniable.

Track Listing: Cabin In The Sky; Afternoon; Miyako; Young And Fine; You Don't Know; Invitation; Time To Say Goodbye; Ode To Billie Joe; Prague In March; Speak Low; Wave.

Personnel: Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica; Bill Cunliffe: piano.

Title: Cabin In The Sky | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced

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