1) Spaceburger 5:19
2) Odessa in April 6:36
3) Samba To Go! 4:30
4) So Tinha De Ser Com Você 5:45
5) Choro No. 14 2:59
6) Mountain Drive 6:06
7) Joe's Donut 5:28
8) Bossa Sketch 5:13
9) A Choro For You 4:25
10) My Foolish Heart 6:35
Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica, vibes
Rodrigo Ursaia: tenor & soprano sax, flute, alto flute
Misha Tsiganov: piano, Fender Rhodes piano
Gustavo Amarante: bass
Adriano Santos: drums, pandeiro, percussion on #1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8
Luiz Simas: piano on # 9
Zé Mauricio: congas, pandeiro and percussion on # 3, 7, 9
• Hailed as the world’s leading chromatic harmonica player since Toots Thielemans, Meurkens demonstrates on “Samba To Go!” - his 18th CD release as a leader – a dazzling virtuosity in a varied program of seven samba, bossa nova, and chorinho inspired originals, two Brazilian “classics” including So Tinha De Ser Com Você by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and My Foolish Hart, a standard from the Great American Songbook.
• As a featured artist, he has recorded with Charlie Byrd, Jimmy Cobb, Ivan Lins, Monty Alexander, Claudio Roditi and Mundell Lowe, as well as backing such leading artists as Astrid Gilberto and Olivia Newton John and touring with the Ray Brown Trio, Paquito D'Rivera, Oscar Castro Neves, Herb Ellis, Herbie Mann, Charlie Byrd, and James Moody.
• Meurkens’ two prior ZOHO releases “New York Samba Jazz Quintet” (2007) and “Sambatropolis” (2008) have been jazz “radio friendly” in the best way, reaching the # 2 (NY Samba Jazz Quintet) and # 1 spots (Sambatropolis) in the Jazz Week radio charts, each having charted for over 20 consecutive weeks!
“Hendrik is even better,” my friend, a well-known Brazilian jazz authority, stated without pause when I mentioned in the same breath the names of a noted Brazilian musician and the Dutch-born, German-raised, New York City-based harmonica ace. Chances are good that any Brazilian knowledgeable of the contemporary music scene would enthusiastically agree that Hendrik Meurkens, whose forte is the music of this culturally bountiful land, is in a class of his own.
For the last half a century, since the birth of bossa nova in 1958, thousands of jazz vocalists and instrumentalists from countries near and far have explored the heady world of such Brazilian styles as bossa, choro, samba and baião, usually with great passion but sometimes with artistically flawed results. Brazilian musicologists, critics and fans alike remain flattered that the music of their land has been and continues to be so warmly embraced by artists around the globe. They can be highly critical; however, when it comes to assessing just how well any given performer measures up. When it comes Hendrik Meurkens, though, there is quick agreement that he understands and performs a variety of challenging Brazilian styles as well as or better than virtually any other non-Brazilian musician in the world today.
Samba To Go! is Hendrik’s timely follow-up to Sambatropolis, the critically acclaimed 2008 ZOHO release that affirmed his affection for and command of the complex choro style. Once again, choro and samba rhythms are the primary focus of an engaging 10-track session that features Hendrik’s working quintet and several guests. This time, however, the leader’s original compositions reign over much of the date, giving Samba To Go! its own distinctive stylistic character and affirming his evolving compositional prowess.
“I record the new songs as they amass from one album to the next,” Hendrik explains of how his new albums are conceptualized. He also likes to revisit his older works because they can change significantly whenever new players come into the band. “It’s interesting to see how some tunes survive the years and still sound nice,” he adds. “Since I have such a great band, I definitely like to play older tunes with them, and the guys make them sound fresh. The rhythm section arrangements always change and the tunes sometimes sound like a new song.”
One such example on Samba To Go! is Mountain Drive, originally recorded three years ago on the Amazon River release, and Joe’s Donut, an even older effort, dating back to the 1995 album Clear of Clouds. This time around, “Mountain Drive” is slightly less romantic and more high spirited with saxophonist Rodrigo Ursaia complementing Hendrik’s juicy harmonic work with a gritty tenor solo and pianist Misha Tsiganov splashing thick chords from his Fender Rhodes 88 throughout. Similarly, “Joe’s Donut,” another Meurkens masterwork that’s been long overdue for another take, is blessed with a catchy, boppish melody and touch of funk and Afro-Cuban in the rhythmic mix. In this incarnation, the tune sounds even more relaxed and rhythmically focused while the combination of Hendrik’s vibraphone, his second instrument, and Ursaia’s tenor in a snaky unison line, provides a slightly harder edge.
The basic line-up of Hendrik’s core quintet remains unchanged from the Sambatropolis session, with the exception of pianist Tsiganov. The native of St. Petersburg, Russia, has become much in demand on the NYC scene thanks to his proficiency in a number of key genres, including straight ahead jazz, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban. “In addition to a deep understanding for all of the styles he touches, he has that Russian pianistic virtuosity that’s so appealing,” Hendrik says admiringly. “With his technique and swing, he is a natural for my chorinhos, which remains a cornerstone of my repertoire.”
Drummer and percussionist Adriano Santos and bassist Gustavo Amarante have anchored the quintet’s rhythm section for several years, and it shows. “They give my music the polish and swing that makes it live,” Hendrik adds. He is equally lavish in his praise of saxophonist Ursaia. “Rodrigo’s beautiful flute, which is an instrument that I love and is always a natural in Brazilian music, is a wonderful fit on several of the tracks.” Rounding out the supporting cast are Luiz Simas, who sits in on piano on “A Choro For You,” a tune he wrote especially from Meurkens, and Zé Maurício, a member of the renowned Choro Ensemble of New York who Hendrik calls “the king of the pandeiro,” the Brazilian percussion instrument that’s at the heart of the samba rhythm.
The opening track, Spaceburger, is another slice of vintage Meurkens, hailing from Samba Importado, his first album of two decades ago that he recorded in Brazil. This time, the delightfully dancing melody moves at a more brisk and self-assured pace with Hendrik setting his harmonica aside and choosing to let his vibes do the talking. Although he includes one work by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the endlessly appealing Só Tinha De Ser Com Você, a tune immortalized by the late singer Elis Regina, and renders a gorgeous take of the ballad My Foolish Heart, it’s his own writing that steals the show.
“I think that I might be more of a composer then a player,” Hendrik discloses. And, unexpectedly, it’s not the pace of life in the Big Apple or an occasional trip to Brazil that sparks his creativity, but the calm of a Baltic retreat. “A couple of times a year the family goes to a little town at the Baltic Sea in Germany,” he reveals. “There I have total peace and the minute I sit down at the piano, the tunes surface. They just come out. Very slowly, but when I fool around at the piano I usually have an initial idea or the first couple of bars of a new tune in a very short time. But then it takes a very, very long time to make it into a song that I can live with.”
More often than not, those new tunes have a distinctive Brazilian feel, even works like the moody Odessa in April. “The Brazilian thing has clearly been my focus lately,” Hendrik happily concedes. “I just feel very close to it, it comes completely natural to me. Plus the great band of mine inspires me to do this music. If I would not find the right musicians I would not want to play this style. And the harmonica hooks up so nicely with Brazilian music that it just asks for the marriage of instrument and style.”
But don’t be surprised if the endlessly curious Hendrik Meurkens someday adds yet another talent to his inventory of artistic accomplishments. Lately he’s had his eye on the mandolin-like Brazilian string instrument that’s a big part of one of the styles of which he is particularly fond. “I am always listening to chorinho music,“ he admits, “and I have to force myself not to pick up the Bandolim!”
-- Mark Holston
Recorded June 9 & 10, 2008, by Michael Brorby at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, NY. Mixed and Mastered by Jay Dudt at Audible Images, Pittsburgh, PA. Photography : Jack Frisch. Package design: Al Gold. Produced by Hendrik Meurkens. Executive Producer: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.
'So Tinha De Ser Com Você' arranged by Paulo André.'A Choro For You' arranged by Luiz Simas. 'Mountain Drive' arranged by Oscar Castro-Neves. All other selections arranged by Hendrik Meurkens and the band
Rhythm section arrangements by Misha Tsiganov, Gustavo Amarante and Adriano Santos. ‘Choro No. 14’ is dedicated to the memory of Ronaldo Folegatti, a great friend and a wonderful musician.
Hendrik Meurkens plays a Musser M55 Vibraphone. Hendrik’s harmonicas maintained by Michael Easton. www.harmonicarepair.com
Adriano Santos plays Odery Drums, Istanbul Agop Cymbals and Vic Firth Sticks.