For the third year in a row, the otherwise frigid month of January is warmed up for Latin jazz lovers via a new Hendrik Meurkens album on the Zoho label. Samba To Go! follows the pattern set by 2008's Sambatropolis and 2007's New York Samba Jazz Quintet, once again showcasing Meurkens' talent on both harmonica and vibes.
Meurkens has been a vital part of the Latin jazz scene for a couple of decades, and I'd encourage those who are a little new to his music to check out the links to previous reviews above for more info about the artist and his two previous releases. Meanwhile, let's talk about his newest.
He's again joined by the members of his regular group, albeit with one change — Russian pianist Misha Tsiganov takes over the keyboard on most tracks. The one exception is when guest pianist Luiz Simas performs on his own composition, "A Choro For You." Also on hand for many of the pieces is percussionist Ze Mauricio.
In addition to Simas' song there are two others from outside sources, but the other seven included on the album are all Meurkens' compositions. That's a much larger percentage than on his previous albums, which would seem to indicate his growing confidence in his songwriting abilities. For what it's worth, I humbly agree. His pieces - some written in the past and others brand new - are outstanding.
My favorites included the title tune, not only because I love a samba but also because it shows Meurkens' harmonica virtuosity at its best, and "Odessa In April." The latter piece presents a softer and slower pace, while preserving the pure flavor of Brazil. I also enjoyed "Joe's Donut," which takes the Brazilian sound and adds elements of bebop, an intoxicating combination. Meurkens shows off his vibes chops on the piece, and it also features some very nice work by saxman Rodrigo Ursaia.
Also included on the album are very nice treatments of Jobim's Brazilian standard "So Tinha De Ser Com Voce," and an old and cherished jazz ballad, "My Foolish Heart." Meurkens' hypnotic harmonica performance is dazzling, and even though it's probably the least Latin-flavored arrangement on the album it still provides a fitting close.
All that and more on Samba To Go!, the latest from Meurkens and his guys — highly recommended.