Maestro Hendrik Meurkens isn’t just an acclaimed artist, whom we have all come to admire. He’s a man brimming with incandescent ideas which manifest into musical gold. What makes Meurkens so special is the singularity of his sound. A German-born, New York-based harmonica player who performs Latin Jazz. If there is a Venn diagram of these attributes, he would be one of the few in the middle. That he has carved such a niche over a storied career should put this album under a special light. Samba Jazz Odyssey is an adventure with seven pieces composed by Meurkens, which were undoubtedly informed by his trailblazing musical journeys around the world. The maestro pairs with the august WDR Big Band, from Cologne, Germany, with arrangements which were also conducted by Michael Philip Mossman, a Grammy-nominated arranger. “This project is very special to me,” said Meurkens. “It is everybody’s dream to record with the WDR Big Band, and I was honored to collaborate with them.” The resulting production is a vivid voyage through samba jazz in its many forms.
Release Date: May 20, 2022 / Zoho Music
1. A Night In Jakarta (H. Meurkens) 7:22
2. Manhattan Samba (H. Meurkens) 5:40
3. Prague In March (H. Meurkens) 5:36
4. Sambatropolis (H. Meurkens) 5:38
5. Mountain Drive (H. Meurkens) 7:50
6. You Again (H. Meurkens) 9:00
7. Bolero Para Paquito (H. Meurkens) 5:53
8. Samba Tonto (H. Meurkens) 7:40
9. Choro (A.C. Jobim) 8:18
Hendrik Meurkens – harmonica
Michael Philip Mossman – conductor
The WDR Big Band:
Johan Hörlén, Pascal Bartoszak, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller, Jens Neufang – saxophones
Andy Haderer, Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls – trumpets
Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Andy Hunter, Mattis Cederberg – trombones
Paul Shigihara – guitar
Billy Test – piano
John Goldsby – bass
Hans Dekker drums
“A Night in Jakarta” isn’t just a get-up samba with feel good effect. It exemplifies the theme of this project, a veritable tour of samba jazz, which begins in the South Pacific. Meurkens wrote the piece as an honorific for the Java Jazz Festival organizers based in Jakarta. He and his Samba Jazz Quartet have played at this well-regarded festival many times. Meurkens has fond memories, particularly of the late-night jam sessions at the hotel. Paul Heller (tenor saxophone) and Raphael Klemm (trombone) deliver dazzling solos to get this album going.
Meurkens first recorded “Manhattan Samba” on his album Poema Brasileiro (Concord, 1996). It’s a tune of many layers, runs, and hits. The band plays as one, navigating the sections with aplomb. Pascal Bartoszak (flute) offers an uplifting and thoughtful solo. Meurkens’ harmonica solo is beautiful and buoyant, bright and bluesy. The maestro is at home at this piece because well…he’s at home. After all, he’s a New Yorker. And this piece is a musical dedication to the vibrant samba jazz scene in New York, as many terrific Brazilian artists live in the Big Apple.
Next stop, central Europe. “Prague in March” is one of Meurkens’ veritable hits, as many accomplished artists have recorded it over the years, including Claudio Roditi, the Brazilian trumpeter. This particular arrangement is by Carlos Franzetti for a project on which he and Meurkens collaborated. In fact, Meurkens wrote this masterpiece before he immigrated to the US, just one year after the Berlin Wall fell. The namesake of the song, Prague, is also its inspiration. Meurkens was fascinated with this beautiful city, and on this rendition, check out Ludwig Nuss’ refined trombone solo.
“Sambatropolis” is another of Meurkens’ popular compositions, recorded previously with English and Portuguese lyrics. It’s a terrific ode to the samba jazz scene of New York. The back-and-forth trades between Meurkens and Johan Hörlén (alto saxophone) are pure delight. This juxtaposition of virtuosity may spark memories or engender one to imagine the music geniuses found at many New York jazz clubs.
On “Mountain Drive,” we find ourselves somewhere in the American West, driving amid the Rocky Mountains. Meurkens named his piece after a car ride from Denver to Aspen. The natural beauty of the jagged mountains and greenery enveloped Meurkens’ mind. For this particular rendition, Andi Haderer (trumpet) goes to work with a terrific solo. “I love the groove that Mossman found for the band. He added a totally new perspective with his arrangement,” reflects Meurkens.
Beginning with pulsing drum hits, “You Again” is Mossman’s composition, and it unfolds with a steady groove and blooming harmonies. The band is put through the paces, and it’s clearly up to the task as the full sonic and dynamic range is on display. Meurkens contributes an epic harmonica solo that demonstrates his effortless mastery. Joining him with remarkable solos: Jens Neufang (baritone sax), Andy Hunter (trombone), Mattis Cederberg (bass trombone), Hans Dekker (drums), Paul Shigihara (guitar), and Rob Bruynen (trumpet). This piece is a jam session.
Meurkens wrote “Bolero Para Paquito” for Paquito D’Rivera, the legendary jazz saxophonist and clarinetist. “Paquito remains one of my main inspirations in Latin Jazz, and he has so much positive energy,” said Meurkens. In fact, Paquito recorded the piece, too. And this particular arrangement by Franzetti is a thoughtful and well-placed work. One highlight is indeed Billy Test’s piano solo.
The premiere recording of “Samba Tonto” is a high point of this album. A samba in seven with a bridge that undulates between 2/4 and 3/8 could make your head spin. But the move among meters is handled gracefully, with colorful woodwinds and lush harmonies. Paul Shigihara (guitar) adds his stamp with a modern and soulful solo. The album ends with Choro, the well-known piece composed by A.C. Jobim. But you’ve never heard it like this before. Mossman’s cinematic arrangement frames the number in a special manner, giving space for solos by Billy Test (piano), Ludwig Nuss (trombone), Ruud Breuls (trumpet), and Meurkens (harmonica).
“Jazz Samba Odyssey” exemplifies basic addition. One plus one equals two. But the combination of Meurkens, Mossman, and the WDR Big Band have given us something ever more. This album is a calculus of creativity, a diagram of distinction, and a watershed work for the jazz and samba communities. It has been a distinct honor for Doug Davis, Matthew Mayer, and I to help produce this album for maestro Meurkens and the entire group. The project has indeed been an odyssey – into the music, from the heart, and out of this world.
Multi-GRAMMY & Latin GRAMMY Award winning producer. He is a New York Times bestselling author.
Produced by Kabir Sehgal, Doug Davis, Matthew Mayer. Recorded October/November 2020. Licensed by WDR mediagroup GmbH. Recording Engineer: Christian Schmitt. Mixing: Christian Schmitt, Walter Platte, Paul Avgerinos. Mastering: Christian Schmitt. Art direction and package design: Al Gold. H. Meurkens photo: Chris Drukker. Executive Producers: Arnd Richter WDR; Joachim “Jochen” Becker
Hendrik Meurkens’ harmonicas maintained by Michael Easton
A Westdeutsche Rundfunk Cologne Production, 2022
Arrangements: Michael Philip Mossman (1, 2, 4 – 6, 8, 9); Carlos Franzetti (3,7).
Publishing: Hendrik Meurkens Music Ed. (1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8); Michael Philip Mossman (6); Backbone Publ. (3); Corcovado Music Corp. (9).
Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band to release new recording: “Vox Humana”
Celebrating 25 years! The multi-Grammy nominated Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is set to release their new recording: “Vox Humana” featuring vocalists Janis Siegel, Antoinette Montague, Jennifer Jade Ledesna.
Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Cola in NYC
Release Date: Spring 2023
Record Label: Jazzheads
New York – January 18th – On the heels of their Grammy nominated and 2019 Jazz Journalists Association Album of the Year Award winning critically acclaimed masterwork, West Side Story Reimagined, and in celebration of their 25th anniversary – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band return with their most ambitious work to date, VOX HUMANA.
Bobby states, “Over the course of our many Grammy nominated albums we’ve occasionally featured tracks with vocals. But I’ve always envisioned doing an entire vocal album framed by the Multiverse Big Band. Now with three of today’s greatest contemporary singing talents – multi-Grammy award winner Janis Siegel from the Manhattan Transfer, blues and jazz Queen Antoinette Montague, and the multilingual powerhouse, Jennifer Jade Ledesna, today that vision has finally become a reality.
The individually distinct voices that Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer possess make them each unique. But the X factor they all have is they are all masterful improvisors in the best sense of the jazz tradition. Added to the mix is our great conguero, Oreste Abrantes, who also sings lead on two tracks. Having that multi- dimensional vocal talent framed by the power, nuance, and tonal variety that only a big band can provide, combined with the repertoire I’ve chosen to showcase them and the band and the incredible variety of Afro- Latin, straight ahead swing, funk, R&B, and rock rhythmic vocabulary that we are masters of and readily have at our disposal in the Multiverse, I believe VOX HUMANA will prove to be our greatest achievement.
That repertoire has a personal meaning to me as I see VOX HUMANA as a biographical work. I’m a product of my environment. I’m a Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent growing up in New York City. In my case the South Bronx during a time period when pop, jazz, R&B, rock, funk, and Latin music of all kinds all co-existed as equals. It was the last era when the big bands of masters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Don Ellis, and more were in the public eye, and they became my heroes. Vocalists who could deliver a message with subtlety, nuance, and when needed, power, were called upon to deliver poetry crafted by genius song writers. You’ll hear all that and more through the soaring vocals and improv talents of Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer, along with Oreste, as well as the incredible jazz-oriented arrangements and exciting Pan Afro-Latin rhythms played by a big band that literally takes no prisoners when it hits the stage.”
The repertoire Bobby speaks of includes 1 original and 12 unique re-workings of pop hits like Spooky, Christine Aguilera’s Genie In a Bottle, and Steely Dan’s Do It Again; NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri’s, Mi Congo and Puerto Rico along with the island’s greatest composer, Rafael Hernandez’s, Capullito De Aleli; the classic Joe Cuba R&B bolero, To Be With You; Brazilian standards Partido Alto and Amazonas; and from the world of Broadway theater, I Love You Porgy, and the iconic jump blues, Let The Good Times Roll. The CD also includes an original message bearing piece, Who Taught You That, as well as what may possibly be the most exciting interpretation of the Ellington associated classic, Caravan, and that has ever been recorded.
Adding to the excitement of the performance, VOX HUMANA was recorded in front of a live audience. Bobby states, “As with our previous work, we recorded VOX HUMANA live at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club Coca – Cola. My musicians represent NYC’s finest. That means they’re the greatest in the world. The added level of excitement created by the audience inspired us in the MULTIVERSE Big Band to a heightened new level of performance virtuosity that listeners will hear explode out of the speakers just as the audience at Dizzy’s experienced in person.”
The history of the Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is indeed one based on his rich multi-cultural heritage as a Nuyorican growing up in New York City’s South Bronx. His concept of having a big band that has no genre boundaries with limitless possibilities was forged 25 years ago back in 1998. It has yielded a series of groundbreaking, critically acclaimed albums that have all been Grammy-nominated with the band thrilling audiences worldwide at venues like the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Ravinia Festival, Verona Jazz Festival in Europe, and more.
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