Sunday, September 16, 2012

Toots Thielemans 90 Yrs. Challenge Records Int. 2012

A former editor and a former smooth jazz guitarist friend of mine both caution against critics using adjectives such as brilliant, genius, and master when describing an artist and their work. Granted that taste is subjective but sharing what for the majority is a blatantly obvious perspective is part of the honesty lacking in music journalism today.

One does not have to be a fan of the harmonica in general or Toots Thielemans in particular to acknowledge that it is his voice on this particularly versatile instrument that is recognized all most immediately along with the impact his virtuoso approach to the instrument has transformed improvised music in the west as few instrumentalists have. Thielemans has been blessed with the ability to blow one perhaps two notes and strike an emotional chord even the most cynical of critics had given up for dead long ago. The god given ability to reach out and make this emotional connection with his audience is why I write about music. While instrumentalist build solos around stock phrases, writers are no different. For this writer you do not review genius, you honor it.

This past April Thieleman's biological odometer rolled over to ninety years young. A milestone birthday however the greatest gift to the public is that Toots Thielemans still has plenty of gas left in the tank and the release with his European Quartet 90 Yrs. is living proof. A live CD/DVD set finds Thieleman at the top of his game with his stellar European Quartet. Recorded over the past five years, the eleven tracks on disc cover Thieleman's vagabond adventures while on tour. The DVD is a stunning look on his group's latest concert in Japan.

The disc opens with "Waltz For Sonny" which is a most fitting homage to the great Sonny Rollins. "Snow Peas" was originally penned by Phil Markowitz but it was the late icon Bill Evans that brought this tune to life. The classic Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba" exemplifies Thieleman's ability to take the simplest melody on go on his own personal journey while remaining melodically accessible at all times. A rare feat to avoid the self indulgent pitfalls that younger players seem intent to find no matter what. "In Your Own Sweet Way" is a throw back to his time with Bill Evans yet magically reharmed as only Thielemans can. While "What A Wonderful World" is of course the classic Louis Armstrong tune that developed a second life after the hit Robin Williams move Good Morning Vietnam, Thielemans takes the tune from perhaps his greatest jazz influence and his moving interpretation is sublime. So many players can play the notes, few such as Thielemans can actually make the music.

One could go into much greater detail on this collection and the Thielemans discography in general but suffice it to say this particular collection is a fitting tribute to not just one of the greatest jazz musicians of our time but one of the greatest musicians across any genre or any generation.

A master class in harmonica, a joy for the soul and an artistic journey well worth the trip!

Tracks: Waltz For Sonny; The Dragon; Sno' Peas; Wave; Dat Mistige Rooie Beest; In Your Own Sweet Way; What A Wonderful World; One Note Samba; The Dolphin; I Do It For Your Love; Old Friend.

Personnel: Toots Thielemans: harmonica; Karel Boehlee: piano, synthesizer; Hein Van de Geyn: bass; Hans Van Oosterhout: drums.

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Special Thanks To My Friends At DL Media.