Herb Ellis Trio


by Brad Engler


In a world of power trios filled with heavy guitars and obnoxious, rock-beat drummers, it’s nice to know that there’s still room for a “power” trio that plays acoustic jazz music that doesn’t belong in an elevator. Unfortunately, this trio has brought along a fourth instrument, the harmonica. While the harmonica can add a lot to a lot of different types of music, the “harp” on this release becomes overwhelmingly repetitious, and drags the entire album down with it.

Overall, Burnin’ has a solid, up-tempo feel, as it meanders through some classic swing-era tunes, like George Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good” and Cole Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love.” The guitar work by Herb Ellis, (sometimes referred to as “The Legendary Herb Ellis”), is both hip and happenin’, but it cannot overshadow the experience of listening to the chromatic harmonica of Hendrik Meurkens swell its way up and down scales ad nauseum.

cover art

Herb Ellis Trio


(Acoustic Music)

To explain for a second, the harmonica style you may be used to hearing, be it on blues records, or more rock-based stuff like Led Zeppelin or Blues Traveler, is a diatonic “harp.” It basically offers a chance to play off of a chord progression in a number of ways, but can almost always sound like it belongs.

A chromatic harp offers the player a chance to play notes that don’t normally fit into the scale, something jazz musicians love to do, and something that, when done right, can be bafflingly cool. However, when the tone and style of said harp do not waver over a lengthy period of time, say…an entire album’s worth, it can become, as I have been implying the entire time, irritating.

Now here’s the thing: aside from the harmonica, there’s nothing else noticeably wrong with this album. As I mentioned, the guitar work is great, and the rhythm section keeps time and more, but on the whole, I would not want anyone to have to deal with the tiring process of listening to harp solo after repetitive harp solo.



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