This may well contain the best Toots Thielemans you never heard. A stunning collection of both rare and great music, starting with his earliest recording as a soloist and ending with a memorable duet in the new millennium. Producers Cees Schrama, a personalfriend, selected all these treasures, looking for recordings that follow Toots' long and impressive career and are hard or simply impossible to purchase on CD. Some of the tracks for example the 1946 recording, initially made as a soundtrack for a cartoon were never issued anywhere. Others among them the tracks with George Shearing were issued on singles and then disappeared. Toots started out as a Django-inspired guitarist but became instantly recognizable when he started whistling along with his guitar improvisations. More fame came when listeners, musicians and producers discovered he was turning the chromatic harmonica into a serious jazz instrument. Thielemans, nowadays, is almost universally loved as a harmonica-star. It took a while, though, before he became a household name.
Maret and Thieleman's new releases is a Gershwin classic shared with a larger-than-life diva: Mr. Thielemans with Shirley Horn on 'Someone to Watch Over Me' and Mr. Maret with Cassandra Wilson on 'The Man I Love.' Mr. Maret's most ambitious work as a composer is on 'Crepuscule Suite' and 'The Children's Suite': The first is about the feeling of twilight, depicting the period between day and night as musically and emotionally ambiguous; the second draws on Mr. Maret's interpretation of the feelings experienced during birth and early childhood.
Yet the most moving track on 'Gregoire Maret' is easily Ivan Lins's 'O Amor E O Meu Pais.' Introduced by the Brazilian composer on his own first album (the 1970 'Agora'), 'O Amor' was originally a fast and aggressive samba. Mr. Maret has made it into something more romantic, as he performs it with Mr. Thielemans. To underscore the deep majesty of the two harmonicas, they're backed by a full string orchestra. The juxtaposition of mouth organs and strings paints an overwhelming picture of rays of sunlight cutting through the clouds.
The harmonica has long been regarded as the humblest of musical instruments, and yet, as Mr. Thielemans and Mr. Maret show, when played at its best, it is more than capable of expressing the deepest feelings in the human experience. --Wall Street Journal, Will Friedwald
If the new double CD collection of rare tracks from harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans demonstrates anything with clarity, it is that this man could play in 1946, the year of the first recordings, and can still play in 2001, the year of the last track. I'm not sure that Thielemans aficionados need such a demonstration, but anyone who might have had the idea that the harmonica was little more than a toy needs to hear what this man can do with it. Think what Charlie Parker could do with the sax or Miles Davis with the trumpet this is what Thielemans, at his best, can do with his harmonica.
Yesterday & Today is a set of 37 previously unavailable recordings selected by friend and fellow musician Cees Schrama from over Thieleman' lengthy career. They feature the musician not only on harmonica, but also guitar, as well as some of his trademark whistling. He plays with everything from trios to big bands. He also plays solo and even sings.
He plays with lesser known European musicians; some of them the biggest names in American jazz. He plays blues, swing, and plenty of modern jazz. There may be some pieces that seem little more than precious bagatelles, but there's hardly a track that doesn't have something to make you smile. More than enough exhibit real power, giving a generous sample of Thielemans' genius.
If you can tell something about a musician by the company he keeps, here are just a few of the names that appear on the album: George Shearing, J.J. Johnson, McCoy Tyner, Cal Tjader, Bucky Pizzarelli, Grady Tate, Clark Terry, Dick Hyman. I could go on, but you get the point. These are all stars, and Thielemans is at home with the best of them. Many of the album's highlights come from the 1960's, when he was showing these guys his stuff. 'Lullaby of Jazzland' is a 1964 recording with Johnson, Tyner, Richard Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones and has Thielemans playing some dynamic guitar. A 1965 recording of 'Soul Bird' has him working with Latin American rhythms on the harmonica along with Terry, Tate, Bob Brookmeyer, Mel Lewis and Gary McFarland among others. 'Please Send Me Someone to Love' is blues, hot and steamy with Pizzarelli and Dick Hyman on the organ. --Jack Goodstein, BlogCritics.org