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Hendrik Meurkens: Amazon River

In the specialized, technically challenging world of chromatic jazz harmonica, the tradition’s pillars generally boil down to a reliable short list: reigning king Toots Thielemans, upstart Gregoire Maret and the always tasteful and nimble German-born Hendrik Meurkens, a talent deserving wider recognition. His new Brazilian-themed project is more than an exotic musical holiday: Meurkens digs deeply into the harmonic traditions and a complementary blend of melodic sensuality and virtuosity.

Meurkens expresses himself with a flowing, natural Rio brio alongside guitar-wielding Brazilians Oscar Castro-Neves (also the coproducer) and Dori Caymmi and other Brazilian players, with clarinet cameos by Cuban Paquito D’Rivera. The material ranges from Meurkens’ own sleek originals (the lovely “Mountain Drive,” the up samba “The Peach”–a la Thielemans’ “Bluesette”) to a handful of Jobim jewels, including the sultry “Ela e Carioca” and “Piano na Mangueira,” which ends the set in a festive spirit, its brisk tempo giving vent to the harpman’s mastery of bebop-inflected phrases.

Originally Published