About this time last year, I reviewed New York Samba Jazz Quintet, a new release on the Zoho label that starred Hendrik Meurkens on vibes and harmonica. In that review I looked into the musical history of the talented artist, exploring not only his background as an instrumentalist but also how his passion for Brazilian jazz led to that album.
Meurkens is now following up on that effort with his newest, Sambatropolis, due out the first week of January, and it looks like another winner. For his 17th album as a leader, the towering Meurkens is again joined by Brazilian pianist Helio Alves, Jed Levy on flute and sax, and drummer Adriano Santos, along with select appearances by Rodrigo Ursaia on sax and Gustavo Amarante on bass.
This time around the focus is nominally on the samba (hence the name), but the album is a nice mix of several styles, including Meurkens’ favorite Brazilian genre, the closely related Choro (Chorinhos). An outstanding example is “Choro Da Neve,” which showcases Meurkens’ main vision – a fusion of the form with jazz.
There are also a couple of jazz standards, reworked to fit the Meurkens style, and my favorite track on the album was one of those. “Bernie’s Tune,” which features Meurkens alternating between vibes and harmonica, gave me a new take on a familiar tune.
Another jazz standard, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” is a ballad that provides us with a lush sax lead from Levy, while another ballad, “Ocean Lights,” gives us the opportunity to enjoy some flute artistry from Ursaia, but both songs still maintain the distinctive Brazilian fusion feel.
Meurkens has composed several of the songs on the album, including the title tune, but those from recognized Brazilian jazz composers will be more familiar to listeners. Especially well represented is the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim, and his familiar “Fotografia” was a delight to hear with a two-sax lead from Levy and Ursaia.
Another successful outing for Hendrik Meurkens and his cohorts, who have managed to steer a course through the jazz world that’s straight and true to their vision of Brazilian jazz.