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Hendrik Meurkens / Gabriel Espinosa: Celebrando

Edward Blanco By

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Harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens and bass virtuoso Gabriel Espinosa collaborate for a tribute of Brazilian jazz on Celebrando, which means "celebrating" in both Portuguese and Spanish. It's an appropriate title for this album, as it celebrates the distinctiveness of the genre and the influence it has had on musicians, audiences and the development of world music. It also pays a special salute to the many stellar musicians appearing on the album, all of whom have devoted a portion of their careers exploring the music. Completing the theme of the session, the recording also serves to celebrate the 100th album from Jochen Becker's New York-based label, Zoho Music.

The international significance of this project cannot be overlooked, considering that the German-born Meurkens joins the Mexican-born Espinosa on this special album, also featuring Israeli-born saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen and Mexican-born drummer Antonio Sanchez as special guests. Rounding out the personnel are three Americans, a Russian pianist (Misha Tsiganov) and the only Brazilian-born player of the crew, drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. What they share in common is an affinity for Brazilian jazz and a willingness to lend their collective voices to this celebration.

Alison Wedding is an enchanting scat singer who opens the set with the light Espinosa bossa, "La Esperanza," supported by Tsiganov's tender Fender Rhodes phrasings and Meurkens' brisk harmonica lines. The delightful "Slow Breeze" mirrors the starter but at a slower tempo, once again featuring Wedding's scatting vocals, Tsiganov on piano and trumpeter Jim Seeley. Cohen lends her clarinet to the choro-styled "Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2)" as she also does on "Pa Rio" and the earthly "Maya Roots," a three-part harmony mixing the voice, clarinet and harmonica. Cohen's only performance on tenor comes with Tsiganov's "Out Of Reach," where she tears off one solid solo after another.

Meurkens' "Odessa In April," a reprise from previous recordings, is clearly one of the melodic gems of the disc featuring more vocal scatting over Seeley's gorgeous flugelhorn and tasteful harmonica. The bassist delivers a humbling vocal performance on the beautiful "La Puerta," singing Luis Demetrio's lyrics in Spanish to Meurkens harmonica accompaniment. The pianist showcases his mettle on his other contribution of the album, "She Lives In Brazil" a romping up-tempo samba where his quick right hand delivery is superb. Seeley on the muted horn and Wedding's well-placed scatting along with Meurkens' furious harmonica performance, are the other highlights of this piece.

The album begins to wind down with "Mountain Drive," one of Meurkens most popular tunes first performed on Amazon River (Blue Toucan Records, 2004), and closes with Espinosa's festive title track—penned, oddly enough, for 2012, the year of the Mayans. Nevertheless, while the music of Celebrando reveals no obvious clues to the celebrant nature of the recording, Meurkens and Espinosa provide many resounding reasons to celebrate the wonderful world of Brazilian jazz.

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