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April 2011

Toots Thielemans
European Quartet Live
Challenge Records

The terminally cool, helplessly passionate harmonica icon Toots Thielemans makes beautiful music on this collage of European performances from 2006, 2007 and 2008. The tunes span a ravishing update of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a haunting version of Monk’s “’Round Midnight” in which the ageless Thielemans reaffirms his reputation as master of the long line, a romantic “On Green Dolphin Street,” and a quasi-funky reading of his own “Bluesette” that will spirit you to a Paris boulevard. His backup here is particularly tasty, and includes invigorating bass by Hein Van de Geyn, drummer Hans van Oosterhout’s subtle rim shots, and deft piano from Karel Boehlee.

The Belgian Thielemans is thoroughly continental. The fillips in his solos punctuate them with humor, and his wit always sharpens his readings, keeping them free of sentimentality. What’s also alluring about this recording, besides its seamlessness, is its ambience: clear and full, the soundscape kindly and democratic. A legend himself, Thielemans has performed with many others including Charlie Parker, Quincy Jones and Benny Goodman, one of his earliest supporters. That he’s making captivating music with such talented young cohorts after all these years is an unexpected pleasure. And don’t miss De Geyn’s liner notes.

Originally published in April 2011
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