The Jazz Album: Watch What Happens
How is it that a Hildesheim-born bass-baritone best known for his stellar interpretation of Schubert lieder, Baroque cantatas and Bach can deliver a “Can’t We Be Friends” that rivals Anita O’Day’s and a “They All Laughed” that is Ella good? Perhaps because Thomas Quasthoff began singing in German jazz ensembles long before his study of classical music began, and has maintained a private passion for jazz ever since. Now, at long last, the 47-year-old Quasthoff, a triple Grammy winner, has made his professional return to those well-buried roots to present his first non-classical album. Quasthoff insists that when he sings jazz, “It sounds like jazz, not like classical music in the guise of jazz.” And, as demonstrated throughout the dozen tracks that fill Watch What Happens, he’s right.
Though the crisp precision of his enunciation hints at his classical training and that English is not his first language, Quasthoff’s jazz style suggests the artistry of Johnny Hartman crossed with the play-to-the-balcony power and glory of Broadway’s Brian Stokes Mitchell. Quasthoff’s intense comfort within the jazz idiom is, it seems fair to presume, further heightened by the presence of renowned German trumpeter Till Brönner as producer and accompanist. Which begs an obvious question: With a pro like Brönner onboard, plus equally estimable pianist Alan Broadbent, drummer Peter Erskine and guitarist Chuck Loeb, does Quasthoff really need the lush Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin on half of the tracks? Turns out, thanks to superb arrangements by Nan Schwartz, Broadbent and others, the 51-piece Berlin ensemble is only occasionally distracting (most notably on an overly weighty treatment of Stevie Wonder’s “You and I”) and often quite enhancing (particularly on a disc-closing “Solitude” that suggests the claustrophobic density of the Black Forest).