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Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Miles Davis never liked the use of the term "legend," to describe a living musician, but perhaps an exception ought to be made in the case of Toots Thielemans, who ranks with the great Larry Adler as one of the greatest harmonica players, one for whom music has specially been composed. On ˂em˃Live˂/em˃, together with his European Quartet, however, Thielemans plays a collection of standards and a couple of his own compositions, brought to life on his chromatic harmonica, with swirling legato and a unaffected virtuosity that have come to be the hallmark of his playing since the early '40s. Whether he is bringing tears to the eyes with softly crying sadness, or flying into the stratosphere with notes soaring on the wings of sheer joy, Thielemans conjures up an aura of fluttering emotion that sears the memory.

Thielemans' playing is so organic, so completely governed by the breath of life, that his music seems to come from deep within his soul. This is something that defined the finest on their instruments—as Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt did on alto saxophone, John Coltrane did on tenor and (later) soprano saxophone, and Louis Armstrong, Jabbo Smith and Bubber Miley did on trumpet, to name but a few. Thielemans can do no wrong, for instance, with his own now-classic composition, "Bluesette," but it is on Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" that he comes into his own. Performed solo, Thielemans draws everyone into the vortex of dimly lit alleys, illuminated by his high and lonesome sound, as if it were coming from a dive where imaginary dancers cling to each other swaying, drunk as much with the music as with love for one another.

The effect on the music on the mind's deep and secretive ear is much the same with John Barry's "Theme from Midnight Cowboy," only this time the rest of the quartet rises to the occasion, lifting not only Thielemans' playing, but each others' as well. Producer/bassist Hein Van de Geyn performs with swaggering brilliance, and his solo that ensues toward the latter half of the song marks him not only as a sensitive accompanist, but also as a singular artist, capable of a certain, memorable melodicism. Pianist, Karel Boehlee provides the perfect foil to Thielemans throughout, and his stunning turns on "I Loves You Porgy" and on "Summertime" must also single him out for special mention. Drummer Hans van Oosterhout is just as deft an accompanist as his partner on the bass, and his rousing choruses on "Summertime" are also quite memorable.

However, it is probably Jacques Brel's elementally sad, "Ne Me Quitte Pas" that makes this album a stellar one. Although it may not come to be as widely sold as Toots Thielemans' The Brasil Project Vol. I (Private Music, 1992) or The Brasil Project Vol. 2 (Private Music, 1993), surely European Quartet Liveranks as one of Thielemans' most definitive releases to date.

Track Listing: I Loves You Porgy; Summertime; Começar De Novo; The Days Of Wine And Roses; Circle of Smile; 'Round Midnight; Les Feuilles Mortes; Theme From Midnight Cowboy; On Green Dolphin Street; Ne Me Quitte Pas; Bluesette; For My Lady.

Personnel: Toots Thielemens: harmonica; Karel Boehlee: piano, synthesizer; Hein Van de Geyn: double-bass; Hans van Oosterhout: drums.

Title: European Quartet Live | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Challenge Records

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