Recordings > Editor's Choice

Thomas Quasthoff: "Tell It Like It Is"

spacer With Müller, guitars; Chastenier, keyboards; Ilg, bass; and Haffner, drums. No texts. Deutsche Grammophon 477 8614

True Soul

Thomas Quasthoff's program of R&B and soul selections is an authentic revelation — stylish, cool and completely snazzy.

QuasthoffCD

There are singers who merit a pat on the shoulder and a "nice try" when they venture beyond the genre for which they are celebrated. Then there's Thomas Quasthoff. Believe it or not, on the basis of this recording, this paragon of lieder performance deserves to take his place in the pantheon of great R&B and soul singers. Despite his humble disclaimer ("I'm not the new soul discovery," he demurs in the liner notes), the German-born singer proves to be as convincing in these styles as the Americans who invented them. Listeners who enjoyed Quasthoff's jazz album, Watch What Happens, will not be surprised by the breadth and range of his abilities. But Tell It Like It Is  is even better and deserves wide recognition beyond the classical community. 

Soul is the element that informs Quasthoff's singing in any genre. He never stints on depth of feeling; every aspect of his communication lands as a personal and authentic revelation. And then there's that voice. With an astonishing range of almost three octaves (low C to high B), Quasthoff's seamless bass-baritone encompasses a startling palette of colors, and he folds weight in and out as he sees fit. In the jazz album, the occasional foreign inflection crept in; here, even those are gone, so that not only does Quasthoff sound American, his delivery recalls specific American performers, without seeming like mimicry. He pours out a Hefty bag full of Lou Rawls-style gravel in Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love" , while his nasal croon channels tenor Al Jarreau in Bill Withers's "Kissing My Love" . His deep, sensual and thoughtful "Georgia on my Mind"  more than stands up to Ray Charles's iconic version. Quasthoff's low, meowed "yow" at the end of "The Whistleman"  is just one of many delicious touches that suggest that he and his brother Michael, who penned the tune, were secretly raised in New Orleans. 

Randy Newman always intended his controversial "Short People" as an ironic reprimand of small-minded bigots, though most of the listening public took it at face value and missed the joke. Oh, yes, Quasthoff goes there, but his completely straight, attitude-free and wink-less delivery reinforces Newman's original intent and makes significant inroads toward rehabilitating the song. In Newman's similarly spoofy country-western tune "Rider in the Rain"  there is no reason to doubt Quasthoff when he twangs, "Got a gun in my holster/ got a horse between my knees/ and I'm goin' to Arizona." His stylish cover of Ann Peebles's "I Can't Stand the Rain"  is every bit as cool as Tina Turner's and quickly became one of my favorite cuts. Quasthoff is backed up by a quartet of ace musicians — Bruno Müller on guitars, Frank Chastenier on keyboards, Dieter Ilg on bass, and Wolfgang Haffner on drums. Wieland Reissmann's arrangements are snazzy and topflight. Add this recording to your collection immediately — but be sure to file it wherever you keep your B. B. King and not your "Erlkönig." spacer 

JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER

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Current Issue: January 2015 — VOL. 79, NO. 6