Toots Thielemans

European Quartet Live

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Even into his eighties, Toots Thielemans sets the standard for jazz harmonica. Although he no longer plays guitar or whistles, he remains a formidable force on his best-known instrument. This CD compiles performances from concerts between 2006 and 2008, all with his European quartet featuring pianist Karel Boehlee (who occasionally adds synthesizer), bassist Hein van de Geyn, and drummer Hans van Oosterhout, a sympathetic group that provides terrific backing and potent solos. Most of the songs have long been in the harmonica player's repertoire, though they still sound very fresh. Opening with a Gershwin medley, Thielemans kicks off with a laid-back "I Loves You, Porgy" before launching into a romp through "Summertime" that features the rhythm section vamping on "All Blues" in spots and making a humorous reference to Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." Toots' unaccompanied version of "'Round Midnight" is a masterpiece, full of twists, especially in the breathtaking introduction. The driving rendition of "On Green Dolphin Street" swings like mad, while the disc concludes with a wide-ranging exploration of his signature composition, "Bluesette," and a loping treatment of his pretty ballad "For My Lady." This live collection is a delightful addition to Toots Thielemans' vast discography.

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