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Hendrik Meurkens and the WDR Big Band: Samba Jazz Odyssey

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Hendrik Meurkens and the WDR Big Band: Samba Jazz Odyssey
One could probably count the number of big-band albums featuring a harmonica player on the fingers of one hand and leave some unused. Only one other springs to mind here, and it was released so many years ago that the names have long since been forgotten. And so it is indeed a genuine pleasure to hear the virtuosic Hendrik Meurkens performing with one of the world's foremost large ensembles, Cologne, Germany's exemplary WDR Big Band.

More than simply performing, Meurkens also composed seven of the album's nine delightful numbers, while conductor Michael Philip Mossman arranged all save two ("Prague in March," "Bolero Para Paquito"), which were superbly scored by Carlos Franzetti. Mossman wrote the zestful, jam-style "You Again," Antonio Carlos Jobim the buoyant finale, "Choro." Meurkens solos on every number, always with one or more members of the ensemble sharing the spotlight.

Pianist Billy Test is impressive on "Bolero Para Paquito" (written for the great Cuban-born saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera), as are flutist Pascal Bartoszak ("Manhattan Samba"), trombonist Ludwig Nuss ("Prague in March"), alto Johan Horlen ("Sambatropolis"), trumpeter Andy Haderer ("Mountain Drive") and guitarist Paul Shigihara ("Samba Tonto"). Tenor Paul Heller and trombonist Raphael Klemm shine brightly on the playful opener, "A Night in Jakarta," but no more so than Shigihara, baritone Jens Neufang, trombonist Andy Hunter, bass trombonist Mattis Cederberg, drummer Hans Dekker and trumpeter Rob Bruynen on "You Again," and Test, Nuss and trumpeter Ruud Breuls on "Choro."

Dekker anchors the WDR's sure-handed rhythm section (Tess, Shigihara, bassist John Goldsby), which never discounts the album's serpentine rhythmic changes while making sure the brass and winds have a wide comfort zone. As for Meurkens, he is a remarkable player in any framework or genre, displaying his uncommon gift for improvisation on every selection, whether trading electrifying four-bar phrases with Horlen on "Sambatropolis" or displaying his intuitive mastery whenever he steps forward. That is hardly surprising; what was unforeseen—and thus especially pleasing—is Meurkens' special proficiency as a composer, as that is truly what sets the album above and apart from so many others.

Combine Meurkens' superb playing and writing with Mossman and Franzetti's dazzling charts, flawlessly performed by the marvelous WDR Big Band, and you have the complete package. To put it another way, Latin-flavored big-band jazz simply doesn't get much better than this.

Track Listing

A Night in Jakarta; Manhattan Samba; Prague in March; Sambatropolis; Mountain Drive; You Again; Bolero Para Paquito; Samba Tonto; Choro.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Johan Horlen: saxophone; Pascal Bartoszak: saxophone; Oliver Peters: saxophone; Paul Heller: saxophone; Jens Neufang: saxophone; Andy Haderer: trumpet; Wim Both: trumpet; Rob Bruynen: trumpet; Ruud Breuls: trumpet; Ludwig Nuss: trombone; trombone; Raphael Klemm: trombone; Andy Hunter: trombone; Mattis Cederberg: trombone.

Album information

Title: Samba Jazz Odyssey | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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