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Gabriel Espinosa/Hendrik Meurkens: Samba Little Samba

Dan Bilawsky By

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The hundredth release on the Zoho imprint was the aptly-titled Celebrando (Zoho Music, 2012)—the debut collaboration between Gabriel Espinosa and Hendrik Meurkens. This follow-up date, arriving a little more than two years later, is cut from the same musical cloth, though a few minor personnel changes and role adjustments give this one its own identity.

The personnel constants across both albums are pianist Misha Tsiganov, drummer Antonio Sanchez, multi-reedist Anat Cohen, and vocalist Alison Wedding. Cohen, appearing on four tracks here, adds her inimitable clarinet voice and puts her tenor to good use; Sanchez, drumming on half of this album, and Tsiganov, appearing throughout, add classy touches and buoyancy where needed; and Wedding, a rising star on the jazz scene, still charms.

Meurkens, who stole the show on Celebrando, remains a captivating personality on harmonica and vibraphone, though the latter is of little consequence here. Espinosa, likewise, follows the same instrumental course set on that earlier album. His bass serves as a foundational presence again, grounding things without pushing into the spotlight. His vocals, however, are a bit more conspicuous on this date, as he gleefully glides across the title track, delivers wordless lines in tandem with Wedding, and explores the nooks of a haunted "Besame Mucho" with his guest duet partner—the incomparable Tierney Sutton. The newcomers—Sutton and guitarist Serge Merlaud , who only appear on the shadowy arrangement of that aforementioned Mexican classic, and drummer Adriano Santos, Meurkens' Samba Jazz Quartet band mate—help to broaden the scope of the project a bit.

Given all of the similarities between both albums, it shouldn't come as a shock to learn that Samba Little Samba basically follows the same type of programming formula as Celebrando, where the co-leaders each contribute four pieces and fill out the album with a few other tracks. Here, those additional tracks—"Besame Mucho" and Tsiganov's "Give Me Five"—are highlights, as are Espinosa's solidly grooving "Encuentro Maya," and Meurkens' cheery "Choro Da Neve" and low-key "Ocean Lights." But in truth, everything is pleasing to the ear. Samba Little Samba is a musical ray of sunshine.

Track Listing: Samba Little Samba; A Song For Ray; A Night In Jakarta; Besame Mucho; Choro Da Neve; Fe; Give Me Five; Ocean Lights; Encuentro Maya; Euro 12.

Personnel: Gabriel Espinosa: bass, vocals; Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica, vibraphone, Anat Cohen: clarinet (2, 5), tenor saxophone (3, 7); Alison Wedding; vocals (1-3, 6-8); Tierney Sutton: vocals (4); Misha Tsiganov: piano, Fender Rhodes; Antonio Sanchez: drums (2, 4, 6, 8, 10); Adriano Santos: drums (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), percussion; Serge Merlaud: guitar (4).

Title: Samba Little Samba | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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