Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"The soulful feeling that Hendrik Meurkens puts into his jazz harmonica always brings warmth and sunshine into the room. Here, he's at home with a quintet at Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, New Jersey, just having a good time and keeping the fires burning all night long. His embers burn from several directions: from Brazilian traditional and New York contemporary to straight-ahead jazz.
Meurkens plays both harmonica and vibraphone for this session. The samba beat that remains woven through the band's texture provides plenty of drive. The session has sparks that recall the mesmerizing Brazilian quality of Tania Maria in performance. Vibes and piano, in particular, give off a fiery glow that sends a strong message.
Jed Levy gives the session a fluid texture. His tenor links up seamlessly with harmonica and vibraphone to help interpret this program of Meurkens originals and familiar songs that sparkle. Unlike some musical instruments, the harmonica and vibraphone avoid staccato attacks and crisp cascades. Rather, both instruments prove conducive for legato strolls and velvety swirls. Tones overlap and phrases move eloquently like river water around boulders or trees. The ripples multiply as Levy joins Meurkens in his lyrical adventures.
The quintet is equally effective on romantic boleros and ballads as it is on up-tempo romps. Four originals by Meurkens provide plenty of spirit. Every track is a winner, though, as the vibraphonist and harp master steers his stellar quintet through this program of Brazilian delights." -AllAboutJazz
"What would you call an NBA-sized German guy who plays harmonica and vibes, and is an unqualified expert in the history, composition, and performance of samba, choro, and bossa nova? Well, "Mister Meurkens seems a little too New York Times, though Hendrik Meurkens certainly deserves that level of respect. More of said respect should follow on the heels of New York Samba Jazz Quintet.
Continuing the sports metaphor, this was a home game for Meurkens: the disc chronicles a Christmas 2005 gig at Cecil's, a jazz club not far from Meurkens' home in New Jersey. While a home game means a home crowd, he could play this set in Teaneck or Timbuktu and still get standing ovations. New York Samba is a joyous collection of buoyant, accessible Brazilian-influenced jazz that mixes enduring standards with some of Meurkens' signature compositions.
Meurkens opens with the João Donato samba "Vamos Nessa, a definite crowd-pleaser that gives Jed Levy's rich tenor sax plenty of room to roam. Meurkens puts Donato on a parallel with Antonio Carlos Jobim; Jobim's strength was as a lyricist, while Donato did the great instrumental samba jazz tunes. (Meurkens gives Jobim some love at the end with a sparkling cover of "Triste. ) Levy alternates between tenor and flute throughout New York Samba, bringing a passionate aesthetic to both. His flute adds loft to Donato's "A Rã and gives a new spin to "Menina na Janela ("The Girl in the Window ), a choro Meurkens played against a Brazilian mandolin on Amazon River (Blue Toucan, 2004).
My experience with Meurkens as a player has been exclusively with his Toots Thielemans-like harmonica, and he does not disappoint; the original "Prague in March and the Ira Gershwin standard "I Can't Get Started share the same qualities of warmth and wistfulness, while Meurkens' solo on Djavan's "Flor de Lis builds from a comfortable glow to a roaring blaze. With that in mind, the crystalline brilliance and exquisite cascades of Meurkens' vibes are both surprising and pleasing, and they have a decided effect on his musical relationship with pianist Helio Alves.
Alves, who has gigged with Joe Henderson and Gato Barbieri, is an ideal foil when Meurkens plays harp, particularly on "Bolero Para Paquito (a Meurkens piece written for another of Alves' former employers, Paquito D'Rivera). But the music acquires a tasty dual-keyboard sound when Meurkens picks up the mallets, similar to what Chick Corea and Gary Burton achieved back in the day - only with a dancing sensation that makes the whole room bop.
New York Samba Jazz Quintet is everything the holidays should be (and usually aren't): happy, relaxed, uncomplicated and celebratory. That's the way to ring in the New Year!" -AllAboutJazz
Down Beat (p.70) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Meurkens remains an inspired interpreter of sambas and chorinos, and a bandleader with a knack for selecting a consistently appealing blend of instrumental voices..."
JazzTimes (p.118) - "The moving 'Bolero Para Paquito' is Meurkens' original written for Paquito D'Rivera and recorded before by both artists. This is Brazilian jazz at its finest."
Personnel: Hendrik Meurkens (harmonica, vibraphone); Jed Levy (flute, tenor saxophone); Hélio Alves (piano); Gustavo Amarante (bass guitar); Adriano Santos (drums).
Liner Note Author: Bret Primack.
Recording information: Cecil's Jazz Club, West Orange, NJ (12/17/2005).
Photographer: Jack Frisch.
Hendrik Meurkens--vibraphonist and harmonica player extraordinaire--leads the New York Samba Jazz Quartet through a rainbow of styles, from Brazilian ragtime numbers (or "chorinhos") to samba to funk, and this 2006 concert recording captures all the vibrancy and color of their live shows. Drummer Adriano Santos is particularly daring here.