Cabin in the Sky – Hendrik Meurkens and Bill Cunliffe

Jazz harmonica maven Hendrik Meurkens teams up with acclaimed pianist Bill Cunli e to present a unique and wonderful mix of tunes on their new duo album, Cabin in the Sky. In addition to several originals, the CD includes compositions by outstanding contributors to the jazz rep- ertoire including Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, plus surprises like a sultry, bluesy version of “Ode to Billie Joe,” the 1967 hit from pop/country singer Bobbie Gentry. Coincidentally, “Ode to Billie Joe” is one of several of the compositions on the album that have their roots in Broadway shows and movies, including the title track, “Invitation,” and “Speak Low.” According to Meurkens, “We did not choose the material with that in mind but as it happens some of the best songs out there are written for Broadway, and I love a good song. I am not so much interested in breaking the latest barrier and pushing the jazz envelope but I am interested in playing beautiful music that warms the heart.” Cabin in the Sky highlights include: “Afternoon”: Cunli e wrote the rich string arrangements that add such warmth and delicacy to this Meurkens composi- tion. Levity meets virtuosity in this delightfully unique version of Jobim’s “Wave,” replete with references to “Smoke on the Water.” Written by the unlikely duo of Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, “Speak Low” is played at a slightly sprightlier pace than usual, but with great feeling nevertheless.

Cabin in the Sky is the rst recording for Meurkens and Cunli e, who have talked about meeting in the studio for years, perhaps inspired in part
by A nity, the classic harmonica/piano collaboration of Toots Thielemans and Bill Evans. “This CD goes a little bit in that direction, as it features mostly lyrical material, which is where the harmonica shines anyway,” notes the German-born, New York-based Meurkens. Hearing the legendary Toots Thielemans inspired Meurkens to switch to harmonica from his original instrument, vibes. Now widely regarded as today’s pre-eminent jazz harmonica player in the tradition of Toots Thielemans, Meurkens is also an acclaimed composer in jazz, Latin, and Brazilian styles. Having released more than two dozen albums as leader or coleader, Meurkens is also an in-demand sideman and soloist, appearing with Jimmy Cobb, Ivan Lins, Monty Alexander, Claudio Roditi, Astrid Gilberto, Ray Brown, Paquito D’Rivera, and others.
Pianist Bill Cunli e has proved himself at home in multiple settings from this duo to trios, big bands, Latin bands, and classical-jazz ensembles; he is also an acclaimed soloist with symphony orchestras. A Grammy-winning arranger, Cunli e has received multiple Emmy and Grammy nominations, and has released more than a dozen albums as a leader, authored several books, and composed several lm scores. He is an in-demand jazz sideman, having worked with masters including Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, James Moody, and Benny Golson.
With Cabin in the Sky, Meurkens and Cunli e reveal a new side to their virtuosity. Let’s hope this simpatico duo won’t keep listeners waiting too long for a follow up to this great new CD.

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