Arguably the most recognizable stylist on the harmonica, 90-year-old jazz icon Toots Thielemans continues to tour around the world—this recording is culled from a series of live dates during the past five years—and he hasn’t lost the boyish sense of wonder that has always defined his playing. Thielemans is essentially a romantic: When he interprets an old chestnut like “What a Wonderful World,” he clearly believes the lyrics.
These recordings feature Thielemans in a working quartet with three collaborators from the Netherlands, pianist Karel Boehlee, bassist Hein Van de Geyn and drummer Hans van Oosterhout. The Thielemans original “Waltz for Sonny,” a tribute to Sonny Rollins, can be viewed as a companion piece to “Bluesette,” Thielemans’ most famous composition. It begins with a rubato section that flows seamlessly into an uptempo waltz, and features strong solos by Thielemans, Boehlee and Van de Geyn, who takes an obvious cue from Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
Thielemans stretches out on two Jobim tunes, “Wave” and “One Note Samba,” maintaining a calm repose that would make one think bossa is where he belongs. Yet he is just as comfortable on the Brubeck standard “In Your Own Sweet Way,” and a bonus DVD includes more masterful yet understated interpretations of standard repertoire. “Autumn Leaves” shows Thielemans in true jocular form. Between “Bluesette,” “Saint Thomas” and the “Theme From Midnight Cowboy,” the film documents a fun set that revels in the leader’s charisma.