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The combination of Hammond B3 organ and mouth organ, a.k.a. harmonica, isn’t an everyday occurrence in jazz. However, the instruments seem like natural-born partners, twin offspring of different mothers. Each is capable of breathlike phrasing, remarkable agility and fluidity, and bluesy soulfulness, particularly in the right hands — say, those of B3 master Tony Monaco and chromatic harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens. The two have played together at festivals, but Strollin’, with drummer Reid Hoyson and guitarist Mark Lucas, marks the first time that Monaco and Meurkens have recorded together.
As the album title suggests, this project, recorded in Pittsburgh and produced by Hoyson, boasts a mostly relaxed vibe. And it’s a varied program, starting with a mid-tempo version of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” featuring Meurkens’ lush reading of the “A” section answered by Monaco’s earthy response on the bridge. Then, it’s off to the races, with the harmonica man’s long sprint followed by a few bars of long-held whole notes as rhythmic tension builds underneath; Lucas, Hoyson’s regular bandmate, and Monaco follow with nicely exploratory turns.
The group, with conga player George Jones amping the rhythmic propulsion on some tracks, takes on other standards, too, including a slinky approach to the Horace Silver-penned title track, replete with Meurkens’ quick quote of Miles Davis’ “Four”; a moody “You Don’t Know What Love Is” evoking a lonely post-midnight walk; and a gorgeous interpretation of Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born” that has harmonica and guitar trading off on the melody. The originals, including Monaco’s Latin-tinged “Happy Sergio” and “Roz da Cat,” and Meurkens’ mid-tempo swingers “Mundell’s Mood” and “Slidin’,” round out a set that’s perfectly pleasant, and at times exuberant. — Philip Booth