Hendrik Meurkens/Bill Cunliffe – Cabin In The Sky – Height Advantage 

A harmonica/piano performance that reflects the participants virtuosity

Hendrik Meurkens/Bill Cunliffe – Cabin In The Sky – Height Advantage 002 56:35***:

( Hendrick Meurkens – harmonica; Bill Cunliffe – piano)

Hendrik Meurkens and Bill Cunliffe are two widely respected musicians on their instruments. They have come together for the first time to display their  creativity on a wide-ranging selection of material from both jazz and popular culture on their new album Cabin In The Sky. The well-spring of this collaboration might have been the 1979 pairing of Bill Evans and Toots Thielemans for their release Affinity. Regardless of the provenance, this effort stands entirely on its own merits and no comparison is required.

The title track “Cabin In The Sky” was written by Vernon Duke and John Latouche in 1940 for the Broadway musical by the same name. With a jaunty tempo, the duo explore the easily accessible number in a decisive fashion. In 1967 Wayne Shorter recorded  the album Schizophrenia containing the number “Miyako” which he wrote for his daughter. A lovely ballad it is filled with shifting textures that allow both players to flex their musical muscles.

That old standby “Invitation” is given new life with staccato phrasing sprinkled throughout the number as Meurkens and Cunliffe develop spiky give and take with each other. The Bobby Gentry country hit “Ode To Billie Joe” is laid out in down home bluesy fashion that seems perfectly suited to Meurkens harmonica. Cunliffe’s piano is discreetly assertive in developing the theme.

The final two tracks of the album are readily recognizable standards. Firstly the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash delightful “Speak Low” which frequently has a Latin touch. However in this instance that interpretation has been discarded in favour of a more perky tempo. In fact that adds to the sparkling virtuosity that each of the participants exhibits through the number, particularly some of the forceful two handed piano delivered by Cunliffe that is very reminiscent of the style of the late Dave McKenna.

Antonio Carlos Jobim was one of the lynchpins of the bossa nova movement of the 1960s, and his composition “Wave” is emblematic of that musical style. Meurkens and Cunliffe are fully in-sync with the concept and their reading of the number captures the rich shape of the music.

TrackList: Cabin In The Sky; Afternoon; Miyako; Young And Fine; You Don’t Know; Invitation; Time To Say Goodbye; Ode To Billy Joe; Prague In March; Speak Low; Wave

—Pierre Giroux

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