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Hendrik Meurkens: Manhattan Samba (Height Advantage)

Review of the harmonica virtuoso's latest take on Brazilian music

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Cover of Hendrik Meurkens album Manhattan Samba
Cover of Hendrik Meurkens album Manhattan Samba

Brazilian melodies frequently are imbued with a certain yearning. Jazz harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens might call it Sehnsucht in his native German. Or maybe it’s better described by the Portuguese word saudade, which hews closer to something like melancholic longing. No matter the language used to define it, that emotion again informs many of the melodies on another samba-jazz collection from the New York-based Meurkens, who has frequently focused on that genre during a recording career stretching back more than 30 years to his debut album as a leader.

For Manhattan Samba, on which he again leaves behind his other instrument, the vibraphone, Meurkens combines new and older original compositions with his interpretations of pieces by Brazilian composers. In these sessions, recorded at studios in New Jersey and Germany, he’s joined by several regular associates. Renowned Brazilian-born drummer Portinho, pianist Helio Alves, and bass guitarists Gustavo Amarante and Fernando Huergo provide expertly interlocked grooves that make everything sound seamless and seem effortless.

Opener “Clear of Clouds,” the title track from Meurkens’ 1992 release, launches this one with a few measures of long tones and open spaces before sprinting away with a sunny melody and pulsating rhythms, and the first of his many fast-moving exploratory solos on the album, followed by a refreshing turn from Alves. Two other originals follow: the even more exhilarating “Manhattan Samba,” featuring a section with the pianist and harmonica man trading bars, and “One for Manfredo,” an infectious tribute to late pianist Manfredo Fest, with whom Meurkens recorded and performed.

Jobim is here, naturally, with the soulful, down-tempo “Bonita,” and the group also takes on Ivan Lins’ “Dona Palmeira” and Toninho Horta’s “Aquelas Coisas Todas,” another opportunity for hard-swinging solo turns by Meurkens and Alves.

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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.