Henrick Meurkens is 'Harmonicus Rex' on New Height Advantages Records Release [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com | Mar 06, 2016 03:10 PM EST
Henrik 'Harmonicus Rex' Meurkens (Photo : courtesy Jazz Promo Services)

When it comes to the use of the harmonica in jazz, one immediately thinks of the 93-year old Belgian master Toots Thielemans. Well, Toots has a musical son. Meet Hendrik Meurkens, also now known as Harmonicus Rex (Height Advantage Records).

Born in Germany, this New Yorker took Toots to heart after being a widely respected vibraphonist in the tradition of Bobby Hutcherson. In 1980, he went to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil to live and soak up the samba before moving back to Germany in 1983. In 1993, he made his New York splash, and remains there today. He's recorded 15 albums, and has been a sideman on projects by Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Herbie Mann, Charlie Byrd, Monte Alexander, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Paquito D'Rivera and James Moody.

Here, backed by the cream of the New York crop, including the legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb, he is heard on 11 selections: five originals, plus covers of Dave Brubeck ("In Your Own Sweet Way"), Milt Jackson ("SKJ"), Rodgers and Hart ("Falling In Love With Love"), Freddie Hubbard ("Up Jumped Spring") and two others.

A word on Jimmy Cobb: the 87-year old drummed on one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, 1959's Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. He is the last surviving musician from that quintessential session. His work with Miles on Sketches of Spain and with artists as groundbreaking as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, David Amram and Sarah Vaughan only scratches the surface of his credits.

Joe Magnarelli provides trumpet and flugelhorn while Anders Bostrom sounds so cool on alto flute. Pianist Dado Moroni is as prevalent as Meurkens while bassist Marco Panascia plays off Cobb's drums beautifully.

Being partial to blues harp and players like Little Walter, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite, my highlight has to be "Mean Dog Blues" where that low-flying flute wrestles with Meurkens on the only blues herein. It makes for a strong triumvirate album-ender as it precedes "Darn That Dream" and "What's New." One more hip thing: the variety of hearing Henrik's harmonica in quartet, quintet and sextet settings.

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