Hendrik Meurkens is, most certainly, one of the greatest musical adventurers from Europe. The harmonica wunderkind who also happens to be a fine vibraphone player seems to have almost singlehandedly rediscovered Brazil decades after Stan Getz and Joe Henderson did almost five decades ago. In doing so Meurkens along with the grandmaster of the harmonica, Toots Thielemans, has cast a refreshing light on Brazilian music, focussing on the angularity and aching beauty longing of its beloved choro. Not only has he brought a new instrument (the harmonica) to the traditional song form (the choro), he has recast the form in instrumental music by playing his instrument of choice as if he were “singing” the lyric lines of choro. And, as if this were not enough, he has added the vibraphone to choro as well. On this instrument as well he seems to dig into the depth of his soul as he creates dazzling harmonies around the melodies he plays.
Naturally, the breathless excitement of Brazil comes through in every aspect on Meurkens’ fourth Zoho release, Live at Bird’s Eye in Basel, Switzerland. Meurkens may not know it, but he has a penchant for the spectacular. This is evident from his sweeping, almost epic take on João Donato’s “Amazonas.” With his majestic runs and arpeggios on the vibraphone, Meurkens fills the heart and the mind with the breathtaking prospect of the world’s greatest, most mysterious and beautiful jungle. As a result, in one fell swoop he traverses a great landscape by creating an exquisite sound scape, urging his ensemble of pianist Misha Tsiganov, bassist Gustavo Amarante and drummer Adriano Santos to rediscover not just a memorable song, but a wonder of the world. Again, Meurkens pays an unforgettable tribute to Donato—this time on harmonica—in “Minha Saudade.” This is where Meurkens’ vocal side comes to the fore as he soars into the proverbial clouds with his “vocal” gymnastics on the harmonica.
But it is on his own composition—a choro, in fact—where Meurkens ingenuity on the harmonica shines. The composer is absolutely majestic as he is elementally sad and joyful on “Lingua de Mosquito.” Here his “vocalastics” on the harmonica are combined with his sense of aching beauty as he recreates a choro that even without vocals, recalls the great vocal choro of the likes of Nana Caymmi.
And what would a concert by Meurkens be without his classic, “Sambatropolis”? The quartet delivers this with refreshing style and aplomb, so that it sounds different from when Meurkens burst on the scene with it almost a decade ago. Moreover here, as elsewhere on this ever so memorable album, pianist Tsiganov gives a fine account of himself as he negotiates the rhythm of Brazil along with the young masters that Meurkens has brought along to Europe—bassist Gustavo Amarante and drummer Adriano Santos—in what is clearly one of the most exciting albums of 2011.
5. Lingua De Mosquito
6. Nôa Nôa
7. Body and Soul
8. Minha Saudade
9. Você Vai Ver.
Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica, vibraphone; Misha Tsiganov: piano; Gustavo Amarante: bass; Adriano Santos: drums, pandeiro (5).
Hendrik Meurkens on the web: www.hendrikmeurkens.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama