So, two kids, one from Germany one from Mexico meet in Iowa and decide to form a Brazilian Band. They knew they needed that instrument that defines Brazilian music – the clarinet….so they recruited a gal from Tel Aviv, Israel. Sound like the start of an ethnic joke? Well, let me assure you this is no joke. It is a Celebrando - celebration.
Hendrik Meurkens really was born in Hamburg, Germany. He took up vibes at age 16 and at 19, the chromatic harmonica. Soon came Brazilian music. It was at Central College in Pella, Iowa that he met Gabriel Espinosa who hails from Yucatan, Mexico and grew up listening to anything from boleros to Brazilian. A graduate of The Berklee College of Music in Boston, he currently heads the Jazz Studies program at Central College. Anat Cohen is a premier modern jazz Clarinetist and sax player I have had the pleasure to listen to recently. I had the pleasure to review 3 Cohens, Family in November, last year. They are joined on this album by the power house jazz drummer, Antonio Sanchez who not only displays technique but inspiration and an innate gift for his craft to where he raises it to the level of art. But he would have to after his long association with guitar legend Pat Metheny. Trumpeter and flugelhornist Jim Seeley, an acquaintance of Hendrik’s from their late-1970s Berklee College student days, is a first-call New York City-based musician, and a principal with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Alison Wedding’s voice was used here basically as a horn instrument, wordlessly singing the melodies. Back-up singer Molly Blythe is a rising jazz artist who has appeared with songwriter Ivan Lins. NYC-based pianist Misha Tsiganov, who plays dynamically in a variety of different styles.
The music. From the first note, you’ll be transported to a sunny beach in Brazil, or wherever it is you dream of being on the beach. Alison Wedding uses her voice to add trumpet, and she is one beautiful Brazilian scat singer. It plays around the melody like a cool breeze. The first composition is Espinosa’s bossa, “La Esperanza” and the way her voice, Tsiganov’s electric piano and Meurkens’ harmonica trade solos, is magical and Zottarelli and Espinoza provide a buoyant bottom beat.
One of my favorites is “Slow Breeze”, which Meurkens wrote for this CD and Wedding’s voice. It has a little bit of the mystic vibes of Minas Gerais, the Brazilian state where Brazilian guitar great Toninho Horta, with whom the composer worked recently, is from. The song has a dreamy, laying in the sun pace. On track three, the pace quicken to a ‘choro’, little cry, or little lament, a Brazilian instrumental style that despite its translation, is often a fast and happy rhythm, characterized by virtuosity, improv and making use of subtle modulation and syncopation. it is all of that here as Hendrik and Anat gallop exuberantly over the traditional rhythmic flow. Cohen’s tone is gorgeous, her fluid statements all winners. As Hendrik rightly states, “Anat is a master Choro player”.
“Out Of Reach” is a Tsiganov’s gem of a composition in 6/4 time that is at once charming, and virtuosic. Solos by Cohen on tenor and, Meurkens shine.
“She Lives in Brazil”, a romping uptempo samba, where Wedding and Misha deliver the theme, then Misha solos with spark, followed by Seeley with singing muted trumpet. Zottarelli and Espinosa lay down boisterous rhythm.
The CD closes with the bassist’s title track Celebrando , a partido alto/samba piece. “This song, which is festive, positive, happy, and thankful, was written to honor the year 2012, which I would call the year of the Mayas,” says the composer. Hendrik, Jim and the vocal trio of Gabriel, Alison and Molly give welcome melody readings; Mauricio’s ebullient drums again light up the rhythm, and his wham-bam solo is a sweet bonus.
If you want to start the summer out right, or if you are just longing for it to get here, then pick up this gem of Brazilian jazz and celebrate. It’s a fantastic offering from a great collection of musicians, all stars in their own right and when they come together, as they have here, they meld into one marvelous vehicle of brilliance.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved