Hendrik Meurkens and New York Samba Jazz All-Stars: In a Sentimental Mood

It’s no secret, at this stage of jazz evolution, that the line separating swing and Latin rhythms is a thin, malleable one. With a little rearranging of a tune’s molecular make-up and presence of creative mind, virtually any piece of music from the jazz canon can be adapted to a samba or other Latin-American feel, almost without blinking. As if to make the cross-culture point on Hendrik Meurkens’ latest, standards are interwoven with a few tunes from South America and his own spry Rio-tribute, “Baiao de Janeiro.” Samba is the sensuously driving force behind the opening “Someday My Prince Will Come,” with Meurkens on vibes, and on the title track, rhythms punctuated with pushed accents and a rolling feel. Here, as on “S’Wonderful,” he plays his main instrument, the chromatic harmonica, and shows the supple melodious grace and underlying improvisational moxie that makes him one of the precious few musicians to extend the Toots Thielmanns tradition of chromatic harp-virtuosity in close check with taste. He is joined, happily, by a nimble band, including Cyro Baptista on percussion and guitarist Romero Lubamba. The end result on the album is less a radical gesture than a reconfirmation of the jazz-Latin connection, with regular crossovers from one pole to the other. Meurkens’ poignant sound and phrasing on harmonica complements the bittersweet luster of Jobim’s ballad, “Luisa,” just as his vibes Latin-ized take on “Solar” brings the song set back around to North American turf, with a pan-American attitude.