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Toots Thielemans: One More for the Road

One of the most expressive of all instrumentalists, harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans has spent a lifetime straddling the line between pop and jazz. One More for the Road, a tribute to the composer Harold Arlen featuring nine guest singers, tips the scales to the pop end of the spectrum. While the octogenarian host’s playing is as tart and winsome as ever, his own arresting contributions are sheathed in fluffy arrangements that muffle any conscious jazz feel. Vocalists Madeleine Peyroux, Lizz Wright, Jamie Cullum and Oleta Adams, along with European stylists including Laura Fygi and Silje Nergaard, turn in single performances apiece, each perfectly pleasant yet none truly worthy of such magnificent standards as “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” “I Wonder What Became of Me,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Last Night When We Were Young.”

Frustratingly, the most commanding performance comes last, one of the three Thielemans features that forgo singers. Relegated to “bonus track” status, “Over the Rainbow” jettisons the overblown arrangements and lets Thielemans interact with a piano trio, a light dusting of electric keyboards the only concession to production sweetening. Over this lean and apt support, the genius of the jazz harmonica proceeds to do his job: break your heart with each exquisitely blown note.

Originally Published