Thursday, June 29, 2023

Hendrik Meurkens - "Harmonicus Rex"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The harmonica would seem to have promise as a jazz instrument: it is a free-reed instrument capable of producing a wide range of voice-like timbres, and it is the most important reed instrument used in blues. In fact it has been of little importance in jazz, perhaps because of the inability of the diatonic instrument to play music that is harmonically complex, and the difficulty of achieving on the chromatic instrument a level of proficiency adequate to the technical demands of many jazz styles. There were no important harmonica players in early jazz, though the instrument was used occasionally in lesser-known jug bands and washboard bands that had repertories combining jazz and blues (such as the Dixie Jassers Washboard Band, which recorded in 1927). In later years there emerged two prominent jazz harmonica players: Larry Adler … and Toots Thielemans….”
- Barry Kernfeld,  The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“Jazz harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens, whose numerous CDs, six of them for Concord Picante, have established him as an important stylist in the world of Brazilian jazz, is releasing his first all straight ahead jazz album in 15 years.
HARMONICUS REX pairs Meurkens with the legendary Jimmy Cobb and a stellar cast of first call New York players. Together they deliver new versions of some choice standards plus compositions by Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard and Dave Brubeck, as well as premiering a few Meurkens originals.

Jazz came first for Meurkens, long before the Brazilian bug caught him. His 25 years on the New York jazz scene and his tours and recordings with Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Paquito D'Rivera, Herbie Mann, James Moody, Charlie Byrd, Monty Alexander, Harry 'Sweets' Edison and many others have long ago proven his mastery and documented his fresh and different approach to jazz harmonica alongside that of the Godfather of the instrument, Toots Thielemans.

Here on HARMONIOUS REX Meurkens is featured in quartet, quintet and sextet settings, demonstrating the harmonica's rich expressiveness and its still widely untapped potential as a jazz horn.”
- Jim Eigo, Jazz promo Services

“Meurkens responses favorably to close attention; otherwise he is apt to pass the casual listener by on the assumption that the calm surface conceals shallowness rather than music of some depth and thought.  He is a melodic and swinging [player] who creates beguiling tapestries of sound.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

‘Musicians create jazz in innumerable ways, and at times have defied orthodoxy by developing their voices on instruments that have not attained a prominent role in jazz.

“Although the harmonica plays a prominent role in blues traditions, its use in jazz groups has been limited. Larry Adler, Buddy Lucas, and Toots Thielemans are a few notable exceptions. … Belgian multi-instrumentalist Toots Thielemans’ ability as an improviser on the harmonica is unsurpassed. After emigrating to the United States in 1951, he performed with Benny Goodman, George Shearing, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, and many others. His composition "Bluesette" (ABC Paramount) has become a jazz standard. More recently, the German Hendrik Meurkens has been acclaimed for similar fluency.”
- Christopher Washburne, “Miscellaneous Instruments in Jazz,” The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner, Editor

You can hear the many reasons why Hendrik Meurkens “ … has been acclaimed for a fluency similar to that of the legendary Jean “Toots” Thielemans on the harmonica” by listening to his latest CD Harmonicus Rex [Height Advantage 001].

Perhaps another aspect of the manner in which Hendrik has approached Jazz that has helped him achieve the high degree of Jazz expression on such a difficult instrument is because he has surrounded himself with excellent musicians.

Good players inspire us to expand ourselves and to do more; play better; take risks; strive to being so completely in physical command of our instrument that it leaves our minds free to seek new forms of expressions instead of playing the same tried and true cliches.

Checkout what Hendrik has to say about the musicians and the music on Harmonicus Rex in these excerpts from the insert notes which he wrote for the CD:

“JIMMY COBB! One of the great drummers in jazz. The definition of swing, drive and taste, and here I am, privileged to be making music with him again, and for the second time now on a recording, after NEW YORK NIGHTS (A-Records, released Oct. 2000).

Playing with Jimmy means so much to me because what drew me to jazz was the swing. To this day I am a traditionalist, a musical conservative if you will. I respect good jazz of any era and any style, but nothing touches me as much as the swinging version of it. My hero is still Bird, first and foremost, and then many, too many to list, from the classic era, when to swing was the law of the land.

Bird.....then why the harmonica? Because of Toots! Heard the man and that was that. It was his sound, his tone and his lyricism that got me. After I was hooked on the instrument I had to deal with the fact that now I was a harmonica player but bebop was still my first love. Good luck with that!

Making the harmonica swing is a challenge that makes the first moon landing look like a senior citizen bowling event. The harmonica can do many things, but playing legato (smoothly connecting the notes) does not come easy on the instrument and it remains a challenge. But you deal with it because there are many other things the instrument can do so well. Playing ballads is one of them.

Jimmy is the man, but there are some other hard swinging gentlemen on the album. DADO MORONI, who also plays on NEW YORK NIGHTS, is one of the great piano players in jazz. No matter if you might not have heard of him before (that is the mystery of the music business), but many musicians will tell you that he is one of their favorite pianists. And when they are intoxicated enough they might even start sobbing and question their own talent once Dado gets mentioned. He's a bad boy!

Bassist MARCO PANASCIA is another miracle of nature. His swing is one-of-a-kind and he is carrying the Ray Brown torch. Marco hails from Sicily and he is simply one of the very best. Here, together with Jimmy and Dado, he is one-third of this killing rhythm section and together they sound like a freight train coming through. Step Aside!

JOE MAGNARELLI is one of New York's most sought-after trumpet players with a long career and many albums under his name. Joe is a true jazz player, he is living the music and you can hear it.

For this album I wanted an alto flute as the third horn (yes, the harmonica is also a horn!) and I called ANDERS BOSTROM, a dedicated flute player, meaning he doesn't double on all the other horns, he just plays flutes. And that's a good thing if you want a great flute sound. Anders is a master of the instrument.

We are playing good ole' standards and some of my own attempts, in quartet, quintet and sextet format, with the harmonica being one of three horns. The days when jazz harmonica was a novelty are long gone, mostly thanks to Toots. Here is an album with the harmonica as a regular.”

Hendrik Meurkens, New York, November 2015
You can locate order information for the new CD by going here.


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