It is often saidrather nastilythat nobody can name five famous Belgians. Jazz fans can certainly name one: harmonicist Toots Thielemans.
Thielemans, who in 2014 announced his retirement at the age of 92, decamped from his homeland after the war to play with just about everyone in the US, including Charlie Parker andprimarilyGeorge Shearing
. He managed in the process to get the harmonica accepted as a seriousor reasonably seriousmusical instrument.
Which is why Yvonnick Prene has titled his first album, Merci Toots
. Prene, a Parisian now living in New York, earns a precarious living playing harmonica in clubs. He is backed by Pasquale Grasso, an Italian ex-pat, on guitar.
Their album is rooted in the bebop era, opening with Bud Powell's "Celia," which the troubled pianist first recorded in 1949 with bassist Ray Brown
and drummer Max Roach
. He was on temporary release from Creedmoor State Hospital, where he was undergoing psychiatric treatment. Curiously, given the circumstances, it's a cheery little tune, well suited to Prene's harmonica adaptation. Tadd Dameron
's "Dameronia" is less successful, tending to sound in this guise rather hollow. Fats Navarro
old queen that he waswould not have been amused.
Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," Thielemans' own "Bluesette," and Paul Raye's "Star Eyes" work best of the rest, perhaps because they are less strictly bebop.
However, having said that, Prene's version of Parker's "Confirmation" very definitely has its moments.
One of the great problems with the harmonica is that- -even in the hands of a master such as Thielemansa little goes a long way... and there's an awful lot of it here.