Hendrik Meurkens & Victor Dvoskin at Tabard Inn

Monday, July 22, 2002; Page C07

The good news for jazz harmonica players has always been the same: The work doesn't require any heavy lifting. The bad news? There is no work.

Fortunately, the chief exponents of the instrument, such as the jazz harp legend Toots Thielemans and his German-born disciple Hendrik Meurkens, have had ample opportunity to leave their mark on the music, both in and out of the recording studio. Meurkens performed a rare Washington engagement at Twins Jazz over the weekend and readily demonstrated his melodic flair and harmonic assurance -- virtues that enhanced the ballads and enlivened the swing tunes.

Like Thielemans, who frequently doubles on guitar, Meurkens is a switch-hitter. He spent the opening set on Friday night alternately playing the chromatic harmonica and the vibraphone.

His phrasing on harmonica, though sometimes punctuated by fanciful multi-octave runs, was invariably clean, fluid and expressive. Particularly enjoyable were the ballad interpretations, which ranged from the soulful ("I Can't Get Started") to the insouciant ("Like Someone in Love"). Both performances were distinguished by unruffled technique and winning lyricism.

As the set unfolded, Meurkens and drummer Chuck Redd took turns playing vibes, infusing the quartet arrangements with bright colors and a ringing swing pulse. Redd's versatility also allowed the band to blend harmonica and vibes in ways that accentuated their complementary tones, creating woven contrapuntal designs and crisp, conversational exchanges. Pianist Steve Rudolph and bassist Victor Dvoskin contributed a series of thoughtfully structured solos.

written by Mike Joyce (Washington Post)