1. La Esperanza 5:02
2. Slow Breeze 4:51
3. Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2) 3:04
4. Odessa in April 6:14
5. Pa Rio 4:52
6. Out of Reach 6:33
7. La Puerta 5:18
8. She Lives in Brazil 4:26
9. Maya Roots 4:59
10. Mountain Drive 5:48
11. Celebrando 3:15
Hendrik Meurkens harmonica
Gabriel Espinosa bass, vocals on # 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11
Anat Cohen clarinet on # 3, 5, 9, tenor on # 6
Jim Seeley trumpet, flugel horn
Alison Wedding vocals
Molly Blythe background vocals on # 5, 7, 11
Misha Tsiganov piano, fender rhodes
Antonio Sanchez drums on # 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9
Mauricio Zottarelli - drums on #1, 4, 8, 10, 11; percussion
Celebrando (which means “celebrating” in Portuguese and Spanish) is a joyous event on several fronts.First, the CD celebrates Brazilian jazz and the resounding impact it’s had and has on musicians and audiences who adore it. Second, Celebrando salutes the musicians performing here – who have devoted years of their lives exploring this music they love. And third, Celebrando serves as the 100th recording for ZOHO Music, Jochen Becker’s dynamic independent New York based label. For ZOHO, such artists as GRAMMY winning pianist/band leader Arturo O’Farrill, conga drummer Ray Barretto, Brazilian guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima, drummer Duduka Da Fonseca and the co-leaders here – harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens and bassist/vocalist Gabriel Espinosa – have recorded.
The CD gathers the leaders and seven splendid colleagues to investigate 10 succulent Brazilian jazz originals – with a “Yucatecan and “European twist,” say Gabriel and Hendrik – and one classic bolero, all designed to enchant.
Hendrik Meurkens was born in Hamburg, Germany. He took up vibes at age 16 (eventually becoming a bebop-based master), and at 19, the chromatic harmonica. Soon came Brazilian music. “It touched me as deeply as jazz did,” he says. Hendrik lived in Rio de Janeiro from 1982-83, listening, playing, sopping up the sounds. His mastery can be heard on four exceptional ZOHO albums, including 2011’s Live at Bird’s Eye (ZM 201114).
Gabriel Espinosa hails from Yucatan, Mexico and grew up listening to anything from boleros to Brazilian. He’s earned degrees from Central College in Pella, Iowa , the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and The University of North Texas at Denton; he currently heads the Jazz Studies program at Central College. Espinosa says his “passion is to write music and to teach.” His initial ZOHO release is the powerful From Yucatan to Rio (ZM 200907).
The bassist met Meurkens in performances at Central College, where they discovered a strong musical affinity, which led to deciding to collaborate on Celebrando. “Hendrik is an outstanding composer/performer, and I am honored to have the opportunity to do this project with him,” says Gabriel.
In return, Hendrik says “Gabriel’s conception works for me. We both love songs that have beautiful melodies and that are in the tradition of the great American and Brazilian song books.” They both want vibrant compositions and arrangements played by “simpatico musicians with talent and taste.”
Supporting musicians of such quality play here on Celebrando. They’re all top-rate, and have appeared as leaders and recorded with many masters, including Ivan Lins, Pat Metheny, Da Fonseca, and the leaders.
Anat Cohen is a premier modern jazz and Brazilian clarinetist and saxophonist.
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, can also be heard on Hendrik’s prior ZOHO releases, Samba to Go! (ZM 200901) and Live at Birds’ Eye (ZM 201114). Antonio Sanchez, primarily known for his long association with guitarist Metheny, is regarded as one of the top drummers today, as is the drummer Maurico Zottarelli, who plays on yet another Meurkens ZOHO release, Sambatropolis (ZM 200801).
Celebrando opens with Espinosa’s bossa, La Esperanza, about “our hopes in life,” he says. The enticing way Wedding’s voice (she is an enchanting scat singer), Tsiganov’s electric piano and Meurkens’ harmonica trade solo spots, and the vitality of their improvisational language are knockouts. The composer and Zottarelli provide a buoyant bottom beat.
Meurkens’ dreamy-paced Slow Breeze, written for this CD, spotlights Wedding’s voice. Brazilian guitar great Toninho Horta, with whom the composer worked recently, influenced him. “It has a little bit of the mystic vibes of Minas Gerais, the Brazilian state where Toninho is from,” he says. Persuasive performances from Sanchez and Seeley add zest.
The dazzling Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2) finds composer Hendrik and clarinetist Anat riding exuberantly over the traditional Choro rhythmic flow. Cohen’s tone is gorgeous, her fluid statements all winners. As Hendrik rightly states, “Anat is a master Choro player.”
Meurkens’ Odessa in April, with its relaxed gait and endearing melody, is another gem. Seeley shines here, one lyrical remark after another, often over Wedding’s voice. “Voice, flugelhorn and harmonica together is a great color that I tried here for the first time,” Hendrik offers.
Pa Rio is Espinosa’s peppy bossa tribute to Rio de Janeiro. It boasts a vital rhythmic underpinning via Tsiganov, Sanchez and the composer. The mix of vocal trio with Cohen’s liquid clarinet tones or Hendrik’s glowing harp is spot-on. Says Gabriel, “I write simple melodies with easy-to-follow harmonies, and love using vocals to give a different sound.”
Tsiganov’s 6/4 charming, undulating Out Of Reach is a song that “just came to my mind,” says the author. “I hope my music will deliver Peace and Love to the world.” Beautiful thought. Solos by Cohen on tenor, Meurkens and the composer are all standouts.
The slow bolero La Puerta is from the pen of Yucatecan composer Luis Demetrio, whose music Espinosa heard growing up. His lustrous vocal in Spanish is one of the album’s high points.
Crackling Zottarelli remarks kick off Misha’s She Lives in Brazil, a romping uptempo samba. Wedding and the composer deliver the theme, then Misha solos with spark, followed by Seeley with singing muted trumpet. Zottarelli and Espinosa are boisterous in support.
The bassist’s swaying, animated Maya Roots has a vital beat in 6/8. The lead mix of voice, clarinet and harmonica – sometimes in three-part harmony – is captivating. So is Hendrik’s dashing solo over a vocal background. “This song has the mood of Mayan music, with the influence of jazz and Brazilian,” says Gabriel.
Hendrik’s Mountain Drive, from his 2004 Amazon River (Blue Toucan) CD, has become one of his most popular tunes, he says happily. This vital version includes a radiant improv from the composer, and another from Seeley on flugelhorn.
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.
Gabriel offers his view on Celebrando. “This CD turned out to be a fantastic experience,” he says. “I thank each of the musicians for bringing their incredible talents and passion to this project. I think that our compositions take you on a musical journey from the romantic bolero from Mexico to the bossa nova and samba from Brazil.” And what an enjoyable trip it is.
-- Zan Stewart
Produced by Gabriel Espinosa & Hendrik Meurkens. Executive Producer: Joachim "Jochen" Becker. Funded in part by Central College, Pella, Iowa. Recorded May 24-27, 2011, by Michael Brorby at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, NY. Mixed by Michael Brorby at Acoustic Recording. Mastered by Jay Dudt at Audible Images, Pittsburgh, PA. Package design: Jack Frisch.