Hendrik Meurkens/Gabriel Espinosa, “Celebrando” (CD review)

(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

Hendrik Meurkens/Gabriel Espinosa, “Celebrando” (Zoho)

There’s something light, airy and, well, deceptively breezy about the aptly titled Celebrando, an alluring set of Brazilian jazz compositions simmered to perfection by German-born harmonica man Hendrik Meurkens and bassist Gabriel Espinosa, a native of Mexico. An international cast of players, including clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen and drummer Antonio Sanchez, supports the co-leaders.

The deception (the good kind) comes in the way that the laidback, undulating grooves and the seamless blending of these instruments—horns, strings, voice, percussion—can belie the sturdy, precise rhythm-making and often brilliant soloing at the heart of the CD’s 11 tracks. Take, for example, pianist Misha Tsiganov’s 6/4 piece “Out of Reach,” its melody sounded by harmonica, wordless vocals and Cohen’s tenor. The latter is given space for an edgy romp before Meurkens takes over for another agile flight, followed by Tsiganov’s own workout and an open section for Sanchez.

Credit, too, goes to the session’s co-leaders for opting to deploy singer Alison Wedding’s voice as a hornlike instrument, beginning with the opening track, “La Esperanza,” penned by Espinosa. Over a pad of vintage-sounding Fender Rhodes and bossa rhythms, Meurkens offers a stair-stepping melody, the second time doubled by Wedding’s wordless vocals; later, she returns for an engaging scat solo. Wedding is similarly featured on Meurkens’ “Slow Breeze,” and elsewhere. Cohen’s dazzling clarinet work, not surprisingly, is featured on several pieces—“Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2),” the mellow “Pa Rio” and “Maya Roots.” And the title track, a festive samba, closes the disc in high spirits, largely driven by Mauricio Zottarelli’s hyperactive drumming and percussion work.

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