Friday, June 24, 2016

Hendrik Meurkens: Harmonicus Rex

Height Advantage Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Harmonicus Rex

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, most kids played — or tried to play — a harmonica. Even for a neophyte, it was possible to make music with relative ease. And even at its worst, the resulting sound was reasonably pleasant. All in all, the harmonica was an inexpensive way to develop an interest in music, and it often led to more intricate instruments.

For Hendrik Meurkens, though, it was the instrument.  

Meurkens’ first musical instrument  was the vibraphone ... until he heard Toots Thielemans (one of the first, and most famous, musicians to introduce harmonica to the jazz world). At age 19, Meurkens was hooked.

The harmonica is a free reed instrument that produces sound by using the mouth — lips and tongue — to direct air into or out of a series of holes located in a mouthpiece. Each hole contains one of more reeds, which produce a chord or specific tone. Because of a harmonica’s relatively small size, it’s limited in range and volume; it’s also hard to play single-note phrases.

This album contains a mix of songs: some from the Great American Songbook (“Falling in Love with Love,” “What’s New”); some from well-known jazz artists (Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,”  Milt Jackson’s “SKJ”); and several originals by Meurkens. The supporting combo includes Dado Moroni on piano, Marco Panascia on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Anders Bostrom on alto flute. They make a swinging group with equally great solo work.

Meurkens more that holds his own; his solo work is excellent and moving, particularly when you consider the limitations of his “horn.” Move over, Toots; you’ve got company!

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