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Samba to Go!

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Album Review

Though being of Dutch-German descent, Hendrik Meurkens has become a professional Brazilian flavored music maker whose spirited sounds are channeled through his most evident influence, Toots Thielemans. On this recording, Meurkens switches up playing his familiar harmonica with the vibraphone, mixes in a few older tunes from his repertoire with fresh material, one American popular song, and a uses a complement of long-standing bandmembers alongside some newer voices. It's a reliable result, in that the steady samba rhythms never waver, keeping in check a vast amount of improvisation save solos, and gives the listener a safe haven to enjoy this generally uplifting music. St. Petersburg, Russia born keyboardist Misha Tsiganov is a real find, while saxophonist Rodrigo Ursala is as vital a component as Meurkens, especially when he employs his lithe, playful, and atmospheric flute. The leader also wrote most of this music, save for the standard, an Antonio Carlos Jobim tune, or one by pianist Luiz Simas. With Tsiganov playing the Fender Rhodes piano, there a bit of a retro fusion feel à la the original Return to Forever that featured Brazilians Airto and Flora Purim. The Jobim piece "So Tinha De Ser com Voce" has this feeling in a lighter samba flavor with Meurkens on vibes, while "Odessa in April" has a calmer, sleek and seductive tone about it as harmonica joins overdubbed sax and flute. Simas joins on piano for the outstanding "A Choro for You" as churning rhythms meet the Thielemans' style of Meurkens in staccato accents. Of the redo tunes, "Spaceburger" is a great melodic vehicle and an energetic, magnetic tune that leaps out of the speakers, "Mountain Drive" has the kind of shimmering Rhodes sound reminiscent of '70s Chick Corea with Ursala's vibrant tenor sax on the second chorus, while the N.Y.C. neo-bop based "Joe's Donut" is driven by the acoustic piano of Tsiganov and the Michael Brecker-like tenor of Ursala, similar to the band Steps/Steps Ahead, with Meurkens' vibes in the style of Steps co-leader Mike Mainieri. "Bossa Sketch" is close to an ECM-like chamber semi-ballad sound, sultry and romantic with the atmospheric soprano sax of Ursala leading the way. "My Foolish Heart" is a true ballad sans sax, moving to light samba on the bridge. Though typical of what Meurkens has been releasing, there's enough depth, substance, and diversity to set this apart from strictly confined Brazilian music projects. It is a high point for Meurkens so far, as a bandleader, a vibist (please, play more!) and especially a well-rounded and able instrumentalist. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi


Born: 1957 in Hamburg, Germany

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Ever since he started taking harmonica solos in the mid-'50s, Toots Thielemans has been without any close competition on his instrument, at least until Hendrik Meurkens arrived on the scene. Born in Germany to Dutch parents, Meurkens began as a vibraphonist, not playing harmonica until he heard Thielemans when he was 19. He traveled to the U.S. to study at Berklee and spent time in Brazil in the early '80s, during which he immersed himself in Brazilian jazz. Back in Berlin, Meurkens worked in the...
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Samba to Go!, Hendrik Meurkens
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