Jazz CD Reviews

Stephane Grappelli and Toots Thielemans – Bringing It Together [TrackList follows] – LiSem Enterprises
Hendrik Meurkens and Mischa Tsiganov, Duo & Quartet – Junity [TrackList follows] – self

Two fine CDs featuring the much-maligned jazz harmonica.

Published on July 3, 2014

Stephane Grappelli and Toots Thielemans – Bringing It Together [TrackList follows] – LiSem Enterprises</br>Hendrik Meurkens and Mischa Tsiganov, Duo & Quartet – Junity [TrackList follows] – self

Stephane Grappelli and Toots Thielemans – Bringing It Together [TrackList follows] – LiSem Enterprises DKM801 ****:

Hendrik Meurkens and Mischa Tsiganov, Duo & Quartet – Junity [TrackList follows] – self ****:

(Stephane Grappelli, violin; Toots Thielemans, harmonica; Martin Taylor, guitar; Brian Torff, bass, Marc Fosset, guitar)

(Henrik Meurkens, harmonica; Misha Tsiganov, piano; Oleg Osenkov, bass; Willard Dyson, drums; arrangements by Tsiganov)

These are probably the two leading jazz harmonica performers today, following in the footsteps of Larry Adler and others. Thielemans is also known for his guitar playing and his whistling, and Meurkens is also a top jazz vibist.

Belgian musician Thielemans retired this year at age 91, and he had played with Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach, George Shearing and many others. His harmonica sounds graced Midnight Cowboy, Jean de Florette, The Getaway, and various TV programs, including Sesame Street. 

The odd couple of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli were co-leaders of the Hot Club of France during 1933-39, which music later was dubbed gypsy jazz. Grappelli died in 1997 after a rebirth of interest in his music and performances. His main violin role model was Joe Venuti, and Thielemans’ early harmonica model was Larry Adler. Thielemans had mostly played guitar in Shearing’s quintet, and recorded his first all-harmonica album in 1955. in 1984 he recorded with Grappelli, after joining Grappelli’s expanded touring ensemble of the time, and this is the album.

They do seven standards and a couple of current pop tunes. English guitarist Martin Taylor had been playing with Grappelli for some time and Brian Torff was the bassist for George Shearing. Although the closest the Hot Club got to this sort of reed sound was clarinetist Hubert Rostaing, who occasionally replaced Grappelli in the group, the harmonica mates beautifully with the violin on these nine tracks. On “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” Thielemanns plays both electric guitar and whistles.

TrackList:

Bye Bye Blackbird 4:19
Just the Two of Us 5:49
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover Paul Simon 4:49
Georgia on My Mind Hoagy Carmichael / Stuart Gorrell  6:01
The Jitterbug Waltz Fats Waller 3:58
You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To Cole Porter 3:45
Hit the Road Jack Percy Mayfield 5:09
Limehouse Blues Furber 3:24
As Time Goes By Herman Hupfeld 3:23
 

German musician Meurkens reports that the title for his CD is a play on words between the English word unity, meaning the state of being united, and the Brazilian word Junto, meaning together. He began as a vibes player, and spent some years living in Rio since he wanted to immerse himself in Brazilian music. Now based in New York City, he has collaborated for nearly a decade with the Russian jazz pianist Misha Tsiganov, and in this session the two become one musically.

The two appeared as a duo in Russia, but this is the first time they collaboration has been recorded. They consider it a documentation of an ongoing project. Meurkens thinks the Russian classical music education has made Tsiganov a great musician; he categorizes his fresh style as “Rachmaninov meets Jazz.” Tsiganov calls Meurkens “the Art Tatum of the Harmonica.”

The 13 tracks are divided between the duo of harmonica and piano, and a quartet with the bassist and drummer. There is a tune by Jobim and other Brazilian-influenced numbers, and two tracks involving Scriabin show that Russian composer’s strong influence on Tziganov. One of them is the hauntingly lyrical and popular Scriabin Etude which has been done by Bill Evans and other jazz performers.

TrackList:  Blackbird; Luiza; Lady Bear’s Lullaby; Junity; Norwegian Wood; Olena; Pent Up House; Ruby, My Dear; Menia na Manela; West Coast Blues, Scriabin; Close Enough for Love; Etude Op. 2 No. 1

—John Henry




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