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Hendrik Meurkens-Doug Webb Quintet at Trumpets Jazz Club

David A. Orthmann By

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Hendrik Meurkens-Doug Webb Quintet
Trumpets Jazz Club
Montclair, NJ
September 25, 2015

The opening set of a one-off gig by a quintet co-led by vibraphonist/harmonicist Hendrik Meurkens and tenor saxophonist Doug Webb consisted of overlapping, concurrent factors which resulted in over an hour's worth of music brimming with emotional and intellectual substance. The cooperation and connectedness between Meurkens and Webb, who first met decades ago at the Berklee College of Music, set the tone for everything that followed. The co-leaders projected an air of individuals who were there to take care of business and fully intended to enjoy their time on the bandstand. Strong, off putting displays of egotism were conspicuously absent, as was any implication that the music had be regarded with grave seriousness. An optimistic "all for one and one for all" stance spread throughout the band.

A varied program chosen by Meurkens and Webb included something for everyone: Relaxed, forthright, middling tempo swing (Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove," and Meurkens' original "Mundel's Mood"); a bossa nova (Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste"), a ballad (Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood"), and a pair of barnburners (John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and Richard Rodgers' "Have You Met Miss Jones?"). There was ample opportunity to blow, and the listener left with a good idea of the capabilities of individual band members, yet the solos didn't weigh down each selection, or exceed a reasonable amount time. Last but not least, a near capacity crowd—always a welcome sight in any jazz venue—clearly came to listen and gave something back to the band in the form of genuine enthusiasm.

As part of the consistently invigorating support by a rhythm section comprised of pianist Ron Oswanski, bassist Chris Berger, and drummer Alvester Garnett, many of the set's individual accomplishments were framed by their brief enhancements—like Garnett's jolting bass and snare drum combinations; walking lines by Berger that often lifted the band despite a relatively low dynamic level; and Oswanski's knack for inserting a chord in a way that fleetingly stood out as well as boosted the soloist.

Meurkens' vibes turn on "Have You Met Miss Jones?" revolved around deeply focused swing and the juxtaposition of the familiar and the adventurous. A relatively simple three-note phrase served as a palate cleanser after a lengthy, agitated run. Two contrasting, spread out tones marked the onset of a chorus, and he responded to the band's tight, focused momentum with a profusion of notes.

The beginning of Webb's "Triste" solo was the epitome of Getzian cool. He took something off of the customary edge of his tone and stated ideas in an easygoing narrative. Even when his lines became busier and sharper Webb continued to find melodies instead of merely piecing together compatible phrases. A cadenza at the end of "In A Sentimental Mood" was one of the set's highlights. In contrast to a clean, mellifluous sound and relatively low volume while playing the song and variations in the beginning of the selection, during the out head Webb foreshadowed something else entirely by showing signs of exertion and dirtying things up a little. The cadenza that followed was an inspired work of artful extremes. He unleashed a barrage of long, hard, nasty, runs, hinted at the melody without pausing, executed low, elephantine tones and high, keening sounds, and when he finally settled down there was tacit approval in the audience's stunned silence.

The set was proof positive that mainstream jazz doesn't have to be dumbed down to earn the respect and the gratitude of an audience. Rather than erecting a barrier around the bandstand and daring paying customers to try to enter their rarefied world, Meurkens, Webb and their cohort played serious music in a manner that welcomed people while staying true to themselves. And because we live in an era in which there seems to be very little middle ground between pure entertainment and art for art's sake, it was an impressive balancing act.

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