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Music Review: Toots Thielemans — The Live Takes Vol. 1

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You’ve probably heard him more often than you realize.

You’ve heard him in the movies: Midnight Cowboy.
You’ve heard him on television: Sesame Street.
You’ve heard him on Old Spice commercials.

Toots Thieleman has  played with most of the big names in jazz and at 88, has out-lived many of them.  Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Astrud Gilberto are just a few of the easily recognized names he’s worked with — and there are many more. 

He played guitar, became a professional whistler, and of course sets the standard with the harmonica. 

Now you can hear his work recorded live in Belgium and New York City as In and Out Records releases The Live Takes Vol.1, on September 14, 2010. 

The nine tracks were recorded at several venues in Belgium and at Bireland in New York between April 1994 and October 1998.  Vol. 1 begins with an eleven-minute medley of two Gershwin pieces, “I Loves You Porgy” and “Summertime”.  A soft piano prelude welcomes the master harmonica player and accompanies throughout.  The unique sound of Thielemans’ instrument is simultaneously pleasing to the ear and yet evocative of days gone by.  Whether you’re remembering a movie or stage production, Thielemans’ haunting sounds carry you away. 

Track one also prominently displays the talents of one of four rhythm sections in Vol.1.  For this number he’s joined by Nathalie Loriers on piano, Sal La Rocca on bass, and Bruno Castellucci on drums — they each get noteworthy solos.  I thought La Rocca was going to steal the show for a moment with an attention-getting solo on bass.

“Hard to Say Goodbye” is a Toots Thielemans composition and is a slow moody piece with deliberate pacing — a perfect soundtrack for a long, difficult farewell. Backing here is provided by an understated trio of piano, bass, and drums.

The production (Uncle Jazz Productions) is “studio-quality” and it’s only when we hear the applause that we realize that it was recorded live.

The Live Takes Vol.1 is essential for inclusion in the music library of the serious jazz aficionado.?

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