ADVERTISEMENT

Pop

Sly and the Family Stone, “Higher!” (Epic/Legacy, Four discs). A gorgeous package befitting the puzzling giant of soul in the psychedelic era. The one virtually unanimous choice of everyone actually at the Woodstock Festival as the megastar of the whole event was Sly and the Family Stone. Neither Michael Wadleigh’s movie or the record and disc of what they did there has done anything over the decades but accrue ever more adherents. Sadly, the absence of Sly at Woodstock – especially that magical cackling horn riff at the outset of “Higher” (it sounds like a musical game of Harry Potter’s Quidditch) – and the replacement by Sly at an Isle of Wight concert of both lesser performance and recording technology are very much noticed here. But there isn’t much else to quibble about in this complete Odyssey of Sly and the Family Stone from the first moments in the ’60s when the ex-DJ was sometimes throwing jazz into the mix to the 21st century era when a 70-something Sly is still out there keeping on despite a lifetime of bad choices and erratic behavior. No musical performer in America has ever been more creative in demonstrating the recombinant glory of R&B than Sylvester Stewart aka Sly Stone. On this glorious 77-track Goliath of a four-disc overview there are 17 previously unreleased tracks and a sumptuous (if not overly informative) book, featuring a cornucopia of photographs and memorabilia. Ask any Woodstock Festival veteran and they’ll be happy to tell you this is the way Sly should have been treated for the past four decades. It’s certainly his fault in part that he wasn’t. But it’s everyone else’s too. Better late than never. ∆∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Faure, Piano Music performed by Angela Hewitt (Hyperion). There is a wonderful story at the end of Angela Hewitt’s characteristically superb notes to her magnificent recording of Gabriel Faure’s piano music. The disc closes with Faure’s “Ballade” for solo piano Op. 19, from 1879 when the long-lived composer was 34. When Faure, in the company of Saint-Saens, met Franz Liszt for the second time, he presented him with a copy of the “Ballade.” Writes Hewitt: “Liszt, then 70 years old gave up trying to play it after five or six pages, saying he didn’t have ‘enough fingers’ and asked the composer to continue.” Hewitt not only has “enough fingers” to play a terrific one-disc program of Faure, she has the ferocious intelligence and canniesss that has characterized her performances of Bach and Beethoven. But she also has something else of her own – a no-nonsense beef and Yorkshire pudding approach to music that is, by most assay, the epitome of balladic refinement. The lyricism here is exquisite, the late romantic chromaticism it flowered into is majestic. I especially liked the longer-than-usual pauses between pieces on the brilliantly recorded disc. All phases of Faure’s piano music are represented. For someone who wanted an ideal one-disc presentation of Faure’s great piano music are represented. For someone who wanted an ideal one-disc introduction to Faure’s great piano music, this will do brilliantly. ∆∆∆∆ (J.S.)

...

The Best of Jonas Kaufmann, (Decca Universal). The smoldering tenor Jonas Kaufmann captivated me from the first time I heard him, which was in a recording of Schubert’s “Die Schoene Mullerin,” a song cycle I am very picky about. I mentioned my love for that disc to a friend in Los Angeles, a music-savvy woman who shelled out to see him in recital and came back as dazzled as I was. When people look back on our era, I think Kaufmann’s will be one voice that stands out. It has depth, gravity, resonance and emotion. He displays a tremendous commitment to the music he sings. He can sell even a trite aria as few singers can. Even Verdi, a composer I am currently inundated with, is irresistible. This disc, like so many discs these days, emphasizes Italian arias at the expense of the French and Germans. The record companies must know their market; this must be what people want to hear. We get three Verdi arias, three Puccini (one, from “La Rondine,” with Renee Fleming) and arias from Giordano, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Mascagni. I’m grateful that anything else was included at all, that the producers did throw in one Strauss song, one Mozart aria, one Weber and - oh, wait, two Wagner excerpts, one from “Die Walkure” and the other from “Meistersinger” (the Prize Song). In the Strauss song, the wildly passionate “Cacilie,” Kaufmann’s voice, powerful though it is, is almost drowned out by the splashy, deafening orchestra. I like this song better with piano. Kaufmann puts an enchanting spin on the Prize Song, giving it a quiet, Italianate subtlety. In the end the disc delivers what “best of” discs promise: You get to see a little bit of a big voice. And plenty of pictures, which in Kaufmann’s case is a good thing. ∆∆∆½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Jazz

Albert Heath, Ethan Iverson and Ben Street, “Tootie’s Tempo” (Sunnyside). If only music were theory. In theory, the meeting of drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath – one of the two surviving Heath brothers with tenor saxophonist Jimmy – and the pianist of the Bad Plus should be a delightful meeting across opposite jazz generations. What happens is that the senior-most trio member, Heath, seems reduced to a level dangerously close to amateurism and so does the young star pianist. Whatever life and musical pedagogy took place when they weren’t recorded is absent from the disc. Ω½ (J.S.)