When last we looked in on the versatile and celebrated harmonica master Hendrik Muerkens in combination with keyboard whiz Misha Tsiganov, it was when Muerkens was at The Bird's Eye (here) and also teamed up with Gabriel Espinosa (here). Then there was FAME's coverage of Tsiganov's sit-in with Eddie Allen (here). In Junity, however, we get just the two in duet on half the repertoire and then in quartet on the other half (okay, okay, there's actually 13 cuts; I'm terrible at math). What the listener is in for, though, is well displayed in the lead cut, Lennon & McCartney's Blackbird, a track commencing deceptively as chamber-hall mannered, lulling the audience into a false sense of pastorality before cascading into swingin' uptempo jazz, later returning to home base.
Meurkens possesses an uncanny ability to achieve an accordion sound with his harp. I know the 'cordine and harmonica are cousins to each other, but listen to Lady Bear's Lullabye, where he slips almost accidentally into the far end of the mode wherein the kindredness between the two is striking. Toots Thielemans gets to much the same plane often enough but not in the fashion of Meurkens. And Hendrik has remarked of Tsiganov that, especially when they tour Russia, he plays like Rachmaninoff, which is true enough, as Rocky was one of the last Romanticists who captured a personal style, not just in composing but also when sitting down to play (still considered one of the finest pianists of his day). His work on both ends of the spectrum flowed with song-like melodicism at every point, but then there was also Alexander Scriabin, likewise noted for broad sympathies to lyricism, and Tsiganov's especially enamored of Alex, here writing a song named after him and then covering Etude, Op.2, No.1.
That last cut's a duet and perhaps exemplifies what these gentlemen do best: fuse all modes into a jazz-based harmonic whole. And where Meurkens sees Tsiganov as a Rachmaninoff, Tsiganov hears Art Tatum in Meurkens, a striking citation. I hadn't seen that myself and so went back to listen to Tatum again, and, yep, Misha's right. But then there's a third figuration in Tsiganov's musical personality: Gershwin, and though nothing by Big George is covered here, Tsiganov's rendition of Wes Montgomery's West Coast Blues drips with Gershwin chops…by way of Bill Evans. In that cut, when Meurkens comes back in after Misha's solo, it's electrifying, drummer Willard Dyson putting the punctuation in, in all the right places and plenty of it. Harmonica and piano may seem to be a bit of a strange and perhaps half barren pair in concept but not when these guys get together.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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