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Hendrik Meurkens: Live at Bird's Eye

Edward Blanco By

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Considered, by many, to be the most important jazz harmonicist since Toots Thielmans, German-born/New York-based Hendrik Meurkens has long been a connoisseur of Brazilian jazz, with an impressive discography of bossa nova and samba-infused music. Live at Bird's Eye is an assemblage of Brazilian, American and Italian jazz standards recorded live on several sessions from 2008 and 2010 at the Bird's Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland. For this recording, Meurkens draws on music from Joao Donato, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Sergio Mendes, as well as from his own songbook, crafting a decidedly Brazilian-flavored album.

While his prowess on the harmonica is well established, Meurkens was, first and foremost, a two-mallet vibraphonist in the tradition of Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Along with the great Cal Tjader, he has been instrumental in keeping the vibes relevant to Brazilian music and was the first to introduce the harmonica as a part of the Brazilian genre. Meurkens performs on both instruments and joins two Brazilian musicians, bassist Gustavo Amarante, and drumming sensation Adriano Santos, in a featured quartet that also includes prominent Russian-born pianist Misha Tsiganov.

Playing the vibes on straight samba version of Donato's opening " Amazonas," Meurkens' quick-paced rhythm is enhanced by Tsiganov escalating chords. With Meurkens delivering a passionate harmonica solo over a delicate chorus from the rhythm section, the band slows the tempo down on a reprise of the Italian love ballad, "Estate." Reprising the title track from Sambatropolis (Zoho, 2008), Meurkens retains its color and texture in a quartet format, even though the original contained contributions from reed men Jed Levy and Rodrigo Ursaia.

Jobim's classic "Dindi" and "Voce Vai Ver" are two sweet ballads featuring Meurkens' soft harmonica lines and gentle vibraphone voice respectively, with Tsiganov supplying elegant accompaniment on both. The oft-recorded jazz standard "Body And Soul," normally associated with, and interpreted mostly by saxophone players, fares well here, with the vibes filling in quite nicely.

Live at Bird's Eye augments Meurkens' already extensive discography of Brazilian music. Long an exponent of the genre, Meurkens is a master of weaving the rich melodies and harmonic structures of the bossa nova and samba and does so convincingly in this live setting, with a world-class quartet.

Track Listing: Amazonas; Estate; Sambatropolis; Dindi; Lingua De Mosquito; Noa Noa; Body And Soul; Minha Saudade; Voce Vai Ver.

Personnel: Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica, vibraphone; Misha Tsiganov: piano; Gustavo Amarante: bass; Adriano Santos: drums.

Title: Live at Bird's Eye | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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