[5 February 2007]
Long tall Hendrik is, apparently, one of several jazzmen notable for doubling on two very distinct instruments: not trumpet and cornet, or different saxophones or clarinet(s), but a wind instrument and vibraphone. The gigantic amiable Tyree Glenn was famous as the first and maybe only specialist vibes player in Duke Ellington’s band, and Ellington composed for Glenn’s vibes, as well as employing him as a forceful, extrovert trombonist. Each instrument represented another aspect of the man, whereas in Meurkens’ case he does much the same on each instrument. Neither really suits a policy of socking things to the listener, rather they both inform the sensitive exploration of harmonic subtleties that has drawn this German to a development of jazz with considerable Brazilian input.
It’s all the better that on this CD the music starts so directly, with no fussin’ or messin’. While the liner note refers to Helio Alves’ “sensitive touch” and “dazzling runs,” what counts here is that excellent pianist’s direct, firm comping and chording at the beating heart of this current working Meurkens group, along with the Braziliam Gustavo Amarante on bass, and the drums of Adriano Santos—no battery of pots, pans, and rattles required, no platoon of percussionists. A strong inner feeling for pulse maintains this music, and there’s nothing here like the guy one sometimes hears, apparently hired to distract any listener who might notice that some band or musician really isn’t swinging. This band swings. And this is a live recording, from a New Jersey venue near where Meurkens has his home, with the one augmentation melodic and harmonic, indeed harmonious and melodious: the tenor saxophone and sometimes flute of Jed Levy. He makes a lovely noise on tenor, and in phrasing as well as timbre is a good match for Meurkens. There’s some exceptionally nice interplay, alternation between harmonisation and counterpoint, between Meurkens and Levy here.
This is a wonderfully integrated ensemble, and at some risk of repetition it’s worth noting how little up front the drummer is, and how easily the pianist swings at medium tempo on the closer, A.C. Jobim’s “Triste”, leading into a wonderfully relaxed conclusion. The band get there from the whole set’s bracing start through a well-chosen programme, the first and third tracks, “Vamos Nessa” and “A Rá”—compositions by Joao Donato, whom Meurkens calls the greatest composer of instrumental samba. Meurkens’s vibes and Levy’s tenor have good blowing vehicles in these, while on the singer Djavan’s “Flor de Lis”, track two, there is by contrast a nice vocal line for Meurkens’s harmonica. Alves rather likes the harmonies of this one, and after his floating tempo, bassist-paced piano solo, Levy joins Meurkens’s harmonica on flute.
It’s tenor and flute on Meurkens’s much-requested “Prague in March”, and then his dancing choro “Mimosa” makes a pair with another Meurkens composition in the same style, “Menina na Jamela” (Girl at the Window), framing an “I Can’t Get Started” that shows how far Brazilian rhythm can rejuvenate an aged standard. “Bolero para Paquito” was composed for the reedman D’Riveras, and Levy’s tenor is certainly welcome. All in all a most satisfying set.