While the swing side of harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens' personality has basically been dormant for the past fifteen years, it hasn't disappeared. After highlighting his Brazilian jazz bona fides on record after record, Meurkens now returns to straight-ahead jazz on this instantly pleasing date.
Harmonicus Rex, despite it's humorously monstrous title, isn't a roaring beast. There are no high speed scenarios to speak of and no bash-and-crash displays to witness. This record's strength is in its ability to get the point across without all of that needless showboating. It's essentially a model for how feel and taste can trump tempo and dynamic excess in terms of establishing a swinging environment. And with a cast that includes drumming legend Jimmy Cobb and under-the-radar heavies like pianist Dado Moroni and bassist Marco Panascia, it's easy to see why this album projects that train of thought.
In observing Meurkens here, it becomes increasingly clear that he's a master conversationalist with some incredible ears and reflexes. That's something that's often overlooked in discussions of his work, but it's central to the success of his art. Whether trading solos with trumpeter Joe Magnarelli on "Mundell's Mood," responding to Moroni with brief and subtle gestures during "In Your Own Sweet Way," blending and balancing his sound against that of Anders Bostrom's alto flute, or playing off of the rhythm section when in the spotlight, Meurkens' foremost concern is how he relates to the other musicians and the music at hand.
Meurkens clearly relies on a recipe that calls for stirring all of the essential elements of a straightforward date together and cooking everything on low to medium settings. It's a formula for success. By exploring the mellow environs of ballads like "Afternoon" and "Darn That Dream," inviting a little heat and embracing the swing uplift on "SKJ" and "Up Jumped Spring," finding the sweet spots between those locales, and even taking a quick dip into bossa territory on "A Summer In San Francisco," Meurkens manages to create a complete picture that offers rich viewpoints to admire from wherever you happen to be standing.
Mundell's Mood; Slidin'; In Your Own Sweet Way; Afternoon; SKJ; Falling In Love With Love; A Summer In San Francisco; Up Jumped Spring; Mean Dog Blues; Darn That Dream; What's New.
Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica; Dado Moroni; piano; Marco Panascia: bass; Jimmy Cobb: drums; Joe Magnarelli: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 4, 5, 8); Anders Bostrom: alto flute (2, 5, 7, 9).
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