Long before he became a proponent of the Brazilian jazz sound, harmonica and vibraphone master Hendrik Meurkens was drawn to the "swing" of the traditional jazz style and has remained a musical conservative ever since. Harmonicus Rex is the first all straight ahead jazz album Meurkens produces in a fifteen-year period. Here, the harmonica's expressive swinging voice is presented on a blend of originals and standards from such icons as Dave Brubeck, Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard as well as traditional music from Rodgers and Hart and others.
While a recognized artist on the vibraphone and influenced by legendary Belgium master Toots Thielemans, Meurkens leaves the vibes behind choosing only the harmonica for this date in accordance with the title of the album. The eleven-piece repertoire features a core quartet of players featuring the great Jimmy Cobb on drums, and international recording artists, pianist Dado Moroni from Italy and bassist Marco Panascia from Sicily which appear on all tracks. The band morphs into a quintet and sextet on various pieces featuring jazz luminary Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and veteran flautist Anders Bostrom as the third horn (Meurkens considers the harmonica a horn).
The original "Mundell's Mood" kicks off the music with the sounds of the harmonica in full force here bolstered by the trumpet voice of Magnarelli and accompanied well by a superb performance on the keys by Moroni capping off an excellent melodic beginning to the set. The Brubeck standard "In Your Own Sweet Way," gets a delicate and sweet-sounding treatment with sharp piano solos and a short bass line work in combination with the leader's gentle phrasings, making this tune the first of the classics to receive a new look.
One of the most beautiful tracks of the set has to be the soft warm ballad of "Afternoon" where the music moves slowly entering that relaxing side of jazz highlighted by delicate key strokes, soft cymbal splashes, the flugelhorn and Meurkens gentle harmonics. In contrast, the band turns on the burner with a swinging version of Milt Jackson's "SKJ" before once again, returning to the sounds of love with a delicious rendition of "Falling in Love with Love."
An all-time favorite piece of music for the leader is, the Brazilian-tinged love song "A Summer In San Francisco," which he reprises here from previous recordings and once again, makes the tune sound special and inviting. You can't talk about jazz without mentioning the blues and here, Meurkens lets his "Mean Dog Blues" tell the story featuring terrific flute solos from Bostrom who shares the stage with the leader's own bluesy harmonica shouts.
The oft-recorded jazz standards "Darn That Dream," and "What's New" bring the music to a close in stylish fashion. Harmonicus Rex documents Hendrik Meurkens love for the harmonica and the traditional side of jazz. It is rare when a musical statement leaves one with a craving and desire for wanting more of this beautiful music and this remarkable session, truly does, well done!
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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