Samba To Go! (Zoho)
The music of Brazil has captivated a great number of fans and musicians around the world, and many of the latter have tried to emulate the country's sounds and make them their own, for better or worse. Among those who have been successful is Hendrik Meurkens, a New York-based (but German-raised) harmonica player considered one of his instrument's most important players since Toots Thielemans.
Meurkens lived in Brazil for a number of years, and while there he immersed himself in genres ranging from choro (an ancient instrumental style currently being rediscovered), samba and bossa nova. Relocating to the U.S. in 1990, he has since recorded several discs of both original material and covers of Brazilian and American standards - the most recent being Samba To Go!
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The CD opens with "Spaceburger," a Meurkens composition that first appeared on 1989's Samba Importado, his debut recording as a bandleader. On this new version, he plays the vibes, allowing Rodrigo Ursala to take the lead on the flute. Meurkens himself plays an improvised solo, while the rhythm section formed by Misha Tiganov (piano), Gustavo Amarante (bass) and Adriano Santos (drums) provide a solid background.
One of the only two covers on the disc is "Só Tinha de Ser Com Você (It Had to Be With You)," a Jobim/Aloysio de Oliveira tune made famous by the late Elis Regina during the mid-'70s. Here, the quartet uses the melody's simple structure to stretch its legs, gently improvising without losing touch with the song's original notes.
On the highly complex "Choro No. 14," Meurkens interacts with Ursala (on saxophone this time around) with ease - both include fast-paced solos during their individual moments while also doing a call-and-response thing throughout the other musicians' solos. Meurkens also does great justice to the gentle Young/Washington ballad "My Foolish Heart," a tune that features fine piano work from Tsiganov, the sole Russian-born member of Meurkens' quartet. Meurkens also contributes a beautiful solo, while the rhythm section adds nuanced textures to complement the tune.
Samba To Go! is a fine example of the evolution that samba-jazz has had since its Stateside discovery in the late '50s via Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, and those who have since followed in their footsteps. - Ernest Barteldes