The most striking aspect of the music of Hendrik Meurkens has always been the refined elegance of its melodies. This has always been carried forward into his playing and on this disc Cabin in the Sky that is shared with the incomparable pianist Bill Cunliffe. We are treated to all of that as well as the rich and expressive harmonies that result from this extraordinary duo performance.
This album features beautifully crafted arrangements of beguiling variety and sensuousness – from familiar swinging tunes to languid ballads – each one more magical than the next in every lovingly caressed phrase from Mr Meurkens’ own “Afternoon” and “Prague in March” in which he and Mr Cunliffe, never seeming to rush one another, shine brightly.
The chosen material, with one or two exceptions, judiciously focuses on some familiar gems associated with Wayne Shorter (“Miyako”) and Joe Zawinul (“Young and Fine”), together with ones by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash (“Speak Low”) and Bronislaw Kaper and Paul Francis Webster (“Invitation”). The performances of these charts are inspired, and in their intimacy, unlike many of the versions that often suffer from over-arranging. Listening to the way in which Mr Meurkens seductively bends the notes in “Miyako” and “Invitation”, and how Mr Cunliffe sculpts the long and sustained invention of “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Speak Low”, it’s clear that there’s not a semiquaver that hasn’t been fastidiously considered by either of the musicians.
Both Mr Meurkens and Mr Cunliffe share another approach to music; both men are musical introverts and miniaturists, infusing the conventional form of the song with an intimacy and an emotional intensity which can only be described as the poetry of feeling. This makes it easy for the two to be attuned to each other’s vision and artistry throughout and while every song shows that, “Ode to Billie Joe” is exemplary. The album ends in an obligatory (?) nod to the great Brasilian Antonio Carlos Jobim. Here Mr Meurkens’ mellifluous timbre beguiles in the spacious arrangement and his music is brilliantly caught and returned to him by the sumptuous lines of Bill Cunliffe. It’s a certified gem of an album. But then one has come to expect that of everything from these two musicians.
Track list – 1: Cabin In The Sky; 2: Afternoon; 3: Miyako; 4: Young And Fine; 5: You Don’t Know; 6: Invitation; 7: Time To Say Goodbye; 8: Ode To Billie Joe; 9: Prague In March; 10: Speak Low; 11: Wave.
Personnel – Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica; Bill Cunliffe: piano.
Released – 2018
Label – Height Advantage
Runtime – 56:35