Harmonica master Toots Thielemans deserves all the accolades and honors a giant in the jazz field has earned when they reach the level of old-guard master. His sound is just as distinctive, as pure, as vibrant and as alive as when he was a young firebrand playing an instrument more associated with honky-tonks and low class dives than the sweetness that jazz represents. That Thielemans has single-handedly made the harmonica his own within the world of jazz could only be due to the fact he is, both harmonically and rhythmically, rooted in the tradition of the music. In addition, the ease of his melodic grace is both effortless and transcendent of any preconceived conceptual ideas anyone might bring to bear in association with the harmonica. In Theilemans' hands, the instrument is, in its own right, a clear representative of the best jazz has to offer.
The live recordings on this release are taken from concerts in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The fact each of the tracks sound so incredibly similar with regard to sonic presence, especially since they are from a variety of different live concerts and venues, is a testament to the excellence of their sound engineer, Chris Weeda.
Thielemens' longtime band, Karel Boehlee on keyboards, Hein Van de Geyn on bass and Hans van Oossterhout on drums, are so in tune with the harmonica master's phrasing and curve of lines, that the masterful ensemble interplay they create can only come from years of countless rehearsals and live concert tours. When Thielemans slows, it's as if the ensemble had already prepared it. When he softens, it's as if the four musicians are of one mind in how to handle the slight shading necessary in order to make the dynamic transition perfect. When Thielmans goes off into an unaccompanied cadenza, the band makes it seem like there was no other possibility, but to have their fearless leader make a solo statement at just that moment. Words do not describe the incredible degree of excellence inherent in this band.
The program includes his hit song "Bluesette," his less well known composition "For My Lady," as well as his famous "Theme from Midnight Cowboy" music, and a number of jazz standards like "The Days Of Wine And Roses," "On Green Dolphin Street" and "I Loves You Porgy."
Swinging endlessly like a polcat on a warm summer day as it surveys its surroundings, this recording is, simply put, fantastic. Each of the four musicians are not just well schooled in the art of jazz, but are also monsters on their respective instruments. If you don't own a recording of Thielemans, then go get yourself this Challenge Jazz Records release now; you will not be sorry.