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Listening Post: Jazz by Hendrik Meurkens and Stan Getz, Michael Daves marries bluegrass and grunge

Jazz

Hendrik Meurkens, “Harmonicus Rex,” (Height Advantage). No one’s arguing against the harmonica as a great jazz instrument. Toots Thielmans proved how sublime it could be many decades ago. Following him was Hendrik Meurkens most conspicuously. Meurkens has, of late, spent a long time tilling the fields of Brazilian jazz so it’s a major departure for him to be playing on his first straight-ahead jazz record in 15 years. Unfortunately, the harmonica isn’t an instrument that is best used in a quintet as an alternative voice to jazz trumpet and jazz flute both playing post bebop. Pianist Dado Moroni fits in perfectly here as does drummer Jimmy Cobb, one of the most venerable drummers in all of modern jazz (see “Kind of Blue,” a credential that will eternally back up any praise bestwoed upon him.) The harmonica’s lines and sounds are too sensitive and plaintive to be splashed willy-nilly into a conventional post-bop jazz quintet and sextet. Meurkens, then, would have been better off just playing with pianist Moroni and his great rhythm section (as he does on Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”) rather than trading choruses with trumpet player Joe Magnarelli and flutist Abders Bostrom. Three Stars. (Jeff Simon)

Stan Getz, “Getz/Gilberto ‘76” (Resonance), and “Moments in Time,” (Resonance). Here are two terrific Stan Getz discs of live performances from 1976 in San Francisco’s legendary jazz club the Keystone Korner. The club closed in 1983 but the jazz life there was nationally known and it remained that way after it closed. These performances are from a glorious vault of live recordings made in the club by its proprietor Todd Barkan. Resonance label poobah Zev Feldman describes Barkan’s private vault as “an embarassment of riches” and you can prove how rich it is on these two Getz records. The primacy of Getz and Joao Gilberto and Getz performing bossa novas together in their time was a virtual law of ’70s jazz performance. That’s certainly the case with Getz/Gilberto ’76. But it’s the tremendous group Getz was leading at the time playing as a straight ahead jazz group that’s so impressive in “Moments in Time.” As irresistible as Getz was playing Brazilian music what he does with his tremendous quartet on “Moments in Time” seems to have dated far less than “Getz/Gilberto.” He plays some of the best tunes ever by Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and Duke Ellington. It’s not really a contest. It was a formidable quartet – Joanne Brackeen on piano, Clint Houston on bass and the great Billy Hart on drums. Getz was a brilliant live performer – enormously consistent under most ordinary circumstances, and with the sound and melodic invention that resided on jazz’ Olympus for many decades. Great stuff, in particular, the straight-ahead “Moments in Time.” Ratings: three stars for “Getz/Gilberto” and four stars for “Moments in Time.” (Jeff Simon)

Bluegrass/Avant Bluegrass

Michael Daves’ “Orchids and Violence” (Nonesuch, two discs). Here’s something you don’t hear everyday. One disc of this two-disc set is composed of largely traditional bluegass songs played by a traditional bluegrass band. The second disc recorded the same tunes in Michael Daves’ home studio with Daves playing overdubbed bass, drums and raw, electric guitar played on the exact same songs. The combination of garage band rawness in Daves’ avant-bluegrass and the traditional bluegrass repertoire is fascinating; it’s a bit like hearing what Billy Bragg used to do with some of his own modern folk songs. Says Daves “One of the things I love about bluegrass music is the tension between innovation and tradition. When bluegrass came together, it was a fabrication of a variety of influences in American music yet it quickly became something people assume has been around forever. With this project, I can respect and honor the traditional aspects of that but also reflect on the innovative nature of bluegrass music when it was being created, when it was new.” Call it grunge and post-grunge bluegrass, if the phrase avant-bluegrass or avant-country doesn’t tell you enough. Fascinating – much more when it’s being innovative than traditional, it seems to me. Three and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)

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