HENDRIK MEURKENS & BOB DEVOS
(feat. Yuko Kishimoto)
Flights of Fantasy Bookstore
April 2, 2011
by Rudy Lu
The chromatic harmonica is a difficult instrument to play: One can play notes on it just like any other instrument, but to make it sound good in the jazz idiom is an issue onto itself. With the exception of the great Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans, there have been very few players who’ve been able to make the grade. One of those players Thielemans inspired is Hendrik Muerkens, a native of Hamburg, Germany who is as good on vibes as he is on harmonica.
At Flights of Fantasy’s second-ever concert, Meurkens teamed with virtuoso guitarist Bob DeVos to perform (in Meurkens’ own words) “an evening of chamber jazz!” Muerkens made that statement after playing the opening number “Come Rain or Come Shine”. While there were originals on the set list, they’d have to wait their turn, as Meurkens pulled out Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses”, followed by an achingly beautiful rendition of Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart.”
Meurkens’ explained that the secret of playing jazz on the harmonica is to play its strengths and avoid its weaknesses. He played the melodies, which is the primary strength of the instrument, while DeVos handled the harmonies, also adding color and rhythm to the tunes. Meurkens’ warm sense of humor added to the informal nature of the performance. To add some variety to the performance and to make sure he “had to carry a weighty instrument like other musicians”, he changed over to vibes on a few numbers.
Muerkens and DeVos also played some bebop, handling Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple from the Apple” with charm and expertise. He played both harmonica and vibes on “It’s a Mystery”, an original composition by local favorite Yuko Kishimoto. Yuko was the rumored “surprise guest” of the evening, playing Melodica on the piece. The evening ended with Thielemans’ composition “Bluesette” – the best-known hit featuring a jazz harmonica. It was a perfect way to end an outstanding showcase of this underappreciated and seldom-heard instrument.
Rudy Lu is a safety consultant by day , fine arts photographer nights and weekends and an occasional music critic. He has had a passion for jazz since his college days when he was a dj for WRUC (Radio Union College). He is a frequent contributor to nippertown.com as well as albanyjazz.com. His work has been exhibited locally and has been featured by both nationally known and local musicians. He lives in Niskayuna, NY.