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NEA Jazz Master and harmonica playing legend Toots Thielemans turned 90 in April 2012, and the milestone has been marked by an exhibition, a street-naming in his honor and a couple of releases. The double-CD Yesterdays and Todays (Dreyfus, 2012) contained 37 previously unreleased recordings spanning a remarkable 65 years, from 1946 to 2011. Then in September, the Lincoln Center paid tribute to Thielemans in a concert where the maestro was joined by pianists Herbie Hancock
, in a series of short solos. Thielemans has lost none of his warm lyricism, and his phrasing remains arresting. Thielemans has recorded dozens of film soundtracks over the years and the self-penned "The Dragon" and Rogier van Otterloo's "Dat MIstige Rooie Beest" convey his uniquely nostalgic tone.
The crisp phrasing of Boehlee's solo graces the gently swinging "Sno Peas"; written by pianist Phil Markowitz
's "I Do it for your Love." Thielemans toured with Simon in the 1970s and continues to include the number in his sets to this day. Thielemans' lyrical improvisationwonderfully supported by Van de Geyn provides a set highlight.
Thielemans' love affair with Brazilian music began with Honeysuckle Rose Aquarela Do Brazil (Philips, 1969) with singer Elis Regina
's "Wave" and "One Note Samba" sound as fresh as ever, with Thielemans particularly inspired; but it's samba/bossa nova pianist Luiz Eça's "The Dolphin" that stands out most for its subtle delivery from this highly attuned quartet.
Other highlights include a heartfelt eulogy to Louis Armstrong
's "In Your Own Sweet Way." Those wondering where "Bluesette" (Thielemans' signature tune) is will find it on the accompanying DVD, a 25-minute bonus of half a dozen tracks recorded in Tokyo and New York. Thielemans is in good voice and good humor too, introducing "Turk's Fruit," "This is the introduction to a song from a porno film."
It's hard not to get misty eyed during a moving "What a Wonderful World" or at the sight of the standing ovation from the Tokyo crowd at the end. Thielemans, naturally enough, has slowed down, but he has already announced concerts for 2013, and as this two-disc document beautifully illustrates, he still has the ability to touch the soul.
Track Listing: CD: Waltz for Sonny; The Dragon; Sno’ Peas; Wave; Dat Mistigie Rooie Beest; In Your own sweet Way; What a Wonderful World; One Note Samba; The Dolphin; I Do it for your Love: Old Friend. DVD: Autumn Leaves; Turks Fruit; Midnight Cowboy; Saint Thomas; Bluesette; What a Wonderful World.
Personnel: Toots Thielemans: harmonica; Karel Boehlee: piano; synthesizer; Hein Van de Geyn: double bass; Hans van Oosterhout: drums.