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Three new albums show the diversity of contemporary jazz.

Music Reviews: Hendrik Meurkens and Misha Tsiganov, Gary Gray, Jason Paul Curtis

Hendrik Meurkens and Misha Tsiganov – Junity

You might be excused for thinking the harmonica and piano an unlikely combination for a jazz ensemble. You might be excused, but if the harmonica you’re talking about is in the hands of Hendrik Meurkens and the piano, Misha Tsiganov, you couldn’t be more wrong. When these two get together on their album, Junity, released in July, they have a sound that blends beautifully—a blend echoed in the title. Junity, Meurkens explains in the liner notes is a kind of portmanteau word combining the English word unity with the “Brazilian word junto, which means together.”Meurkens-and-Tsiganov-Junity

Of the 13 tunes on the set, seven feature the duo alone and the other six add the bass of Oleg Osenkou and the drums of Willard Dyson. The ensemble plays pieces as diverse as Lennon and McCartney’s pop classics “Blackbird” and “Norwegian Wood,” jazz compositions like Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear” and Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues,” and for good measure they throw in a bit of Scriabin, a touch of Russia and a nod to Brazil.

Gary Gray – Shades of Gray

While the shades of gray on the new album from clarinetist Gary Gray don’t reach 50, there are shades enough to illustrate both the musician’s virtuosity and his versatility. Joined by stellar cast of talented artists, Gray offers a program that at times has the feel of a classical recital, at times a jazz fest. But whatever you call it, what he plays, he plays with an understanding of his instrument and a respect for what it can do.Gray

He begins with a clarinet, piano adaptation of George Gershwin’s “Three Preludes” accompanied by pianist Bill Cunliffe, who also joins him later in the set for a duo arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, a work you can never hear too often. Less well known is Gernot Wolfgang’s modernistic “Three Short Stories for Clarinet and Bassoon” where he teams with bassoonist Judith Farmer.

Jazzier pieces include Cunliffe’s “Yin and Yang for clarinet and alto saxophone” with Gary Foster, Kenny Burrell’s “Blue Muse” arranged for clarinet and guitar with the composer handling the guitar, and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” arranged for spoken voice, piano and saxophone. Gray plays tenor sax, Cunliffe is on piano and Juliette Gray is the spoken voice.curtis

Jason Paul Curtis – Faux Bourgeois Café

Jason Paul Curtis is something of a triple threat—trumpeter, singer, songwriter—and Faux Bourgeois Café, his latest album released in June shows at least two of those talents to advantage. In a ten track set, eight tunes are original compositions, combining a retro vibe, often inspired, Curtis explains, by the gypsy stylings of the great Django Reinhart with some witty modern lyrics. His “American Gypsy” is a good example of what he’s doing. The two covers are “Speak Softly Love” and “One More Kiss, Dear” from the soundtrack of Blade Runner.

Perhaps because he is also a songwriter, Curtis is a singer who is focused on telling the story of the song rather than vocal acrobatics. Even when he is playing word games as in some passages in “Pane e Vino,” his attention is on the lyric. In many ways he is a throwback to another time, and in that for a jazz vocalist is a good thing.

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