Thursday, February 10, 2011

Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live

Challenge Records International
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: European Quartet Live

You don't need to be a musician to recognize Toots Thielemans, but it helps. This senior-senior citizen, born in 1922 in Brussels, Belgium, began playing an accordion at age 3, then took up the harmonica as a hobby. Fortunately for us, and history, he was hooked on jazz during the German occupation of his country during World War II. 

Benny Goodman "discovered" Thielemans during a European tour in 1950, and added him to the band for that event. Thielemans immigrated to the States two years later, and was transfixed by Charlie Parker; Thielemans became a member of Parker's All Stars early on. 

Thielemans subsequently worked with dozens of name artists  George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon and Billy Joel, to name just a few  but achieved mainstream fame by virtue of his harmonica and whistling work on film soundtracks and TV commercials.

And here he is, at almost 90, still playing, touring worldwide and knocking them out. You've never heard the harmonica played like this! His tone is gorgeous, his facility unbelievable; his unique ability to play and whistle simultaneously adds another dimension to this lowly "horn."

This European quartet also features Karel Boehlee on piano and synthesizer, Hein Van de Geyer on bass, and Hans van Oosterhout on drums. These artists have worked together for years, which is evident; they think and play as one. 

Listeners who expect an instrument that plays chords at an up-tempo meter will be stunned; Thielemans' solo work is done utilizing single-note phrasing, and his most impressive tunes are ballads. The dozen songs here include selections such as "I Loves You Porgy," "Summertime" and "The Days of Wine and Roses." Needless to say, his own composition, "Bluesette," is a highlight. 

If you're already a Thielemans fan, you won’'t need encouragement. And if you're not yet a fan, don’'t let any preconceived notions about this instrument prevent you from hearing a master at work.  

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