2015 Jazz Grammy® Preview #4 – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2015 by curtjazz

A category that in the past was dominated by the traditional big bands, now features an interesting mix. It’s a tossup with much more than classic swing on the plate.

The L.A. Treasures Project – The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (Capri)

No video clip available

Life In The Bubble – Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (Concord)

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project – Rufus Reid (Motema)

Live: I Hear The Sound – Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra (Archie Ball)

OverTime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer – The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (Planet Arts)

Should Win: Rufus Reid

Will Win: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

2015 Jazz Grammy® Preview #3 – Best Instrumental Jazz Album

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2015 by curtjazz

In our third preview, we look at the nominees for the award that many consider the be the big prize in the jazz categories: Best Instrumental Jazz Album. As usual, the category is stocked with strong contenders but it is likely to come down to a race between two big names:

Landmarks – Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band (Blue Note)

Drummer Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band has recorded four albums in sixteen years. Each one of them has been outstanding. The deeply personal Landmarks, recorded mostly in Mr. Blade’s hometown of Shreveport, LA, is no exception. It’s stark in spots richly orchestral in others and very compelling. I wouldn’t mind to see them take home the award but I don’t think that it’s going to happen due, ironically to another project that features Mr. Blade.

Trilogy – Chick Corea Trio (Concord)

Chick Corea, Christian McBride and Brian Blade came together on this 3 CD live recording from their world tour. The program includes jazz standards (Monk’s “Work”), classic Corea compositions (“Spain”) and even their take on Russian classical music (Scriabin’s Op. 11, No. 9). The trio is in outstanding  form and the musical performances are universally first-rate. I know that I complain a lot in this space about the awards consistently going to the legendary names but I can’t fight it on this one. Chick is most likely to win. The only thing standing in his way could be a super group with a number of big names in it. Their work isn’t as good but their names are almost as big.

Floating – Fred Hersch Trio (Palmetto)

Fred Hersch is one of the finest pianists of our time and Floating is more recorded evidence of that fact. This album found Mr. Hersch, bassist John Herbert and drummer Eric McPherson back in the studio after a few live discs. It’s as intelligent as any release of 2014 and the trio operates as a single, living breathing musical organism. It was on my list of the Best Jazz Albums of 2014 and it’s my pick for this award. But as we know, I don’t have a vote so the likely winner will be one of the two albums that flank it on this list.

Enjoy The View – Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco Featuring Billy Hart (Blue Note)

Bobby Hutcherson in his return to the label where he made some legendary recordings, accompanied by contemporary masters David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Hart. I so badly wanted this album to be great when I first heard that it was coming out. Alas, it was only good. It has numerous high point but almost as many moments of mediocrity. Still, here it is, up for a Grammy today. Will it win? Very possibly, if the voters don’t do their usual rush to Corea, who is this case, is the better pick. Or maybe they will split the vote and leave an opening for Blade or Hersch…We will see…

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller  – Jason Moran (Blue Note)

This is another album that I loved conceptually; that I wanted so much for it to be stellar and it turned out to be just “good”. Moran is a true student of the great Fats Waller and I love what he has been doing in trying to bring Waller’s music to a contemporary audience. Perhaps he was trying to do a bit too much for this record and something got lost in the translation. Oh well… Again, I would love to see Moran recognized for his musical contributions but giving him a Grammy for this album would be like when they gave Al Pacino an Oscar for The Scent of a Woman.

As for our unscientific and slightly cynical prediction:

Should Win: Fred Hersch

Will Win: Chick Corea

Up Next: Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

2015 Jazz Grammy Preview #2 – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2015 by curtjazz

Here we are, racing to the finish to get our Jazz Grammy predictions out before the awards are presented this afternoon!

In the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, we have a couple of extremely deserving first time nominees, a perennial nominee who unfortunately is always overlooked and a couple of fairly good albums that are the favorites to take home the prize.

Map to the Treasure: Re-imagining Laura Nyro  – Billy Childs & Various Artists (Sony Masterworks)

Billy Childs is a terrific if overlooked, jazz pianist and arranger. The idea for this album was a very good one, taking the music of the great pop songwriter, Laura Nyro and re-imagining them with some of today’s strongest vocalists and instrumentalists. The result is an outstanding pop album. Sorry, folks but for my money, despite the presence of Mr. Childs, Esperanza Spalding, Wayne Shorter and Dianne Reeves, who all perform impressively in their segments, Map to the Treasure, while award worthy, doesn’t belong in this category. The irony is, because of all of the pop names and the handful of jazz names involved, it stands a decent chance of winning. If it does, I will be happy for Mr. Childs, who defintely deserves wider recognition but my opinion still stands.

I Wanna Be Evil  – René Marie (Motema)

For my money, this first-time nominee is your winner. This late 2013 release by Ms. Marie was one of the best of her impressive career. Her performances on this tribute to the late, great Eartha Kitt, are at turns funny, seductive, unnerving and thought-provoking; just like the immortal performer who inspired them. (Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE) Why Ms. Marie will probably not win? The album was released over a year ago, just missing the cutoff for last year’s awards but putting it in the position of having slipped from the consciousness of man voters. Also, Ms. Marie as great as she is, is not well-known by much of the voting crowd and some only know her for a few minor controversies from seven years ago. And, there’s also the presence of a very well-known name, with  a very accessible album, which is an odds-on favorite to take the prize. If I’m wrong I will be thrilled but I don’t think so.

Live in NYC  – Gretchen Parlato (ObliqSound)

Like Rene Marie, Gretchen Parlato is a first-time nominee. Also like Ms. Marie, Ms. Parlato’s album was released in 2013, just after the eligibility cutoff for the 2014 Grammys. And also like Ms. Marie, Ms. Parlato is a longshot to win today. Keeping it 100, I adore Ms. Parlato’s work but this album, which consists mostly of live takes of selections from her previous releases, while good, is inferior to most of her previous work. Because she is so terrific overall, it would be cool to see her recognized but I think the next lady is going to stand in her way.

Beautiful Life – Dianne Reeves (Concord)

Beautiful Life was the great Dianne Reeves first new release in about half a decade. It is loaded with big name guest stars (Glasper, Esperanza, Lalah Hathaway, George Duke, etc). It is laden with accessible, pop and adult r&b radio friendly material. And Dianne Reeves is by far the most recognizable name in this category. The album is okay; not Ms. Reeves best work, but it won’t matter. She will pick up her fifth Grammy today.

Paris Sessions- Tierney Sutton (Varese Sarabande)

In Grammy previews of years past, I have referred to Tierney Sutton as the “Glenn Close” of this category. Sad to say, that appellation will apply again today. Ms. Sutton is a terrific vocalist; a perennial Best Jazz Vocal Album nominee, who has never won the award. Because in spite of the quality of her work, she is still undeservedly obscure in a category that habitually awards name recognition. Paris Sessions is another gorgeous album partnering Ms. Sutton with Serge Merlaud and Kevin Axt, two outstanding guitarists. The album is worth adding to your library but alas, Ms. Sutton will leave once again, without the Grammy.

Our unscientific and mildly cynical prediction:

Should Win: Rene Marie

Will Win: Dianne Reeves

Up next, Best Jazz Instrumental Album

2015 Jazz Grammy® Preview #1 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2015 by curtjazz

Well here I am folks, late to the Grammy Party but still right on time!

The 2015 Grammy® Awards will be handed out this Sunday, February 8. The Awards in the Jazz categories will be distributed, as usual, during the “Pre-Show” before the televised broadcast. As I have done over the past few years I’ve put together a review of the jazz category nominees, including a musical clip (where available) and my opinion about the artists chances to take some hardware home on Sunday. Let’s start with jazz’s equivalent of Record of the Year, “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

“The Eye Of The Hurricane,” – Kenny Barron, soloist:  From the album Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Whaling City Sounds)

The great pianist Kenny Barron and the legendary bassist Ron Carter join drummer Gerry Gibbs (son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs) on this terrific trio album. The nominated track is a blazing fast take on the Herbie Hancock composition, with Mr. Barron showing the impressive speed that we don’t get to hear from him often enough these days. It’s a fine track but it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle of big names on the way to the awards podium. What it has made me do is check out the work of Gerry Gibbs who I’ve somehow managed to miss over the years.

“Fingerprints,” Chick Corea, soloist: From the album Trilogy – Chick Corea Trio (Concord)

This is a nominated performance from Trilogy Mr. Corea’s live three disc semi-retrospective. The track is stellar, as is the album, which has also been nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Corea is as good, at age 73, as he has ever been and the support from Brian Blade and Christian McBride is also first rate. So, what’s my problem? I’ve talked about it every year since I’ve been doing these jazz Grammy posts; I would just like to see some of the Grammy voters award love go to someone not named Corea or Hancock or Rollins, etc. But I know that my wishes will likely go unfulfilled. The performance is very good and they know his name so Chick Corea will probably win this award and the other one as well.


“You & The Night & The Music,” Fred Hersch, soloist: From the album Floating – Fred Hersch Trio (Palmetto) 

As i mentioned in my 2014 year end review, Floating is one of my all time favorite Fred Hersch albums. That said, it’s ironic that this track gained a nomination as it is one of performances that I found to be just good but not great. There are better tracks on the album and better ones nominated in this category. Still, anytime Fred Hersch is acknowledged for his art, it is a great thing. The album is also nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental album. Sadly, it is likely to come home empty-handed due to the “Chick Factor”.

“Recorda Me,” Joe Lovano, soloist: From the album The Latin Side of Joe Henderson  – Conrad Herwig (Half Note)

No doubt about it; Conrad Herwig has struck critical and to an extent, commercial gold with his “The Latin Side of…” series. This track from the latest release is the best of the Joe Henderson tribute album, which was recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. Though the track is strong, I found it interesting that Mr. Lovano was singled out for recognition, as his is one of a number of strong solos during the 11 + minute performance. I guess it has to do with him being listed as the featured performer on the album cover. It also nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album. I think that it has a better chance in that category.


“Sleeping Giant,” Brad Mehldau, soloist: From the album Taming the Dragon – Mehlania (Nonesuch)

A track from Mehlania, the new electronic duo composed of the well-respected pianist Brad Mehldau, this time on a variety of electronic keyboards and drummer/percussionist Mark Guiliana. This is a spacey/trippy track that is for me, reminiscent of Miles circa Bitches Brew. Not really my cup of tea but I wouldn’t count it out on Grammy night due to Mehldau’s name recognition. I have to admit that if it wins, I will laugh my ass off.

So here is my unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Kenny Barron
  • Will Win: Chick Corea

Up next, will be Best Jazz Vocal Album. A category that will also likely be dominated by name recognition.

Best Jazz of 2014: Hot Tone Music

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014, Under The Radar, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 12, 2015 by curtjazz
(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones; Shirazette Tinnin

(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones; Shirazette Tinnin

A few years ago, bassist Mimi Jones recorded her first album, A New Day. Working on the sessions for the album provided Ms. Jones with a great deal of priceless experience in the ins and outs of the recording process. She became a de facto adviser  for many of her colleagues, who would come to Mimi seeking guidance on every phase of the business; such as promotion, artwork and the other little things that novices often leave to chance. Ms. Jones realized that as major label deals for most jazz artists have disappeared, the development and direction that big labels provided, have also dried up.

When she was ready to record Balance, her second album, Ms. Jones decided to take things into her own hands. Part of doing that was a gutsy decision to start her own label, Hot Tone Music. The idea being to give gifted musicians a home and the direction that they sometimes lack. As Ms. Jones said during an interview with Bret Primack (aka “The Jazz Guy”) “With Hot Tone Music… we try to support our artists. If they… show signs of great talent we make a space for them and we teach them how to take care of themselves…and then [we] present a platform from which they can get exposure through publicity and marketing…”

In addition to Balance, Hot Tone released two other albums in its first year, 2014:  Origins by saxophonist/vocalist Camille Thurman and drummer Shirazette Tinnin’s Humility:Purity of My Soul.  All three projects strong, complex and thoroughly absorbing ; grounded in the post bop and modal tradition but also rich with the influences that the artists have adopted outside of the jazz mainstream. And oh yes, in case you haven’t noticed all three leaders just happen to be women.

The fact that these albums were so good created a dilemma for me as I put together my Best Jazz Albums of 2014 list. The exceptional music from Hot Tone was easily among the best of the year. But the fact that these three albums all came from a brand new jazz-centered label and that this jazz-centered label was started by a woman musician, and at this point featured all women musicians, was such an impressive story that I didn’t want to potentially bury it inside of a list of 25 albums. So, I decided to wait a week or so and create this separate entry, celebrating Hot Tone Music and its 2014 releases.

Balance – Mimi Jones – This album was my introduction to Hot Tone Music, as I was assigned to review it for Jazz Inside Magazine. It’s a confident blend of original compositions and covers of tunes that are well know but not done so often that they’ve become clichéd. Guest appearances by Ingrid Jensen, Luis Perdomo, Marvin Sewell and Ms. Jones’ two Hot Tone label mates, help take things to the next level. It was a long, long time before I moved this disc out of my player. Read my Jazz Inside Review HERE.

Humility: Purity of My Soul – Shirazette Tinnin –  On her debut album, this North Carolina native displays impressive skills on the kit and proves to be a fine composer, having written seven of her album’s nine selections. The two covers? McCoy’s “Passion Dance” and Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” (Nothing like going for broke!). She pulls each off in a big way with Ms. Tinnin’s hard-driving beat and labelmate Camille Thurman’s smokin’ tenor powering “Passion Dance”. On the Eddie Harris classic, Ms. Jones adds an insistent island-funk bass line to Ms. Thurman’s searching sax and Ms. Tinnin’s authoritative drumwork. It’s now one of my favorite versions of the piece. As far as the originals go, check out “Aunt Sissy”, with the ladies of Hot Tone joined by pianist Rachel Eckroth for a ballad that grows from a whisper to a shout on Thurman’s muscular tenor. Also dig “Jazzmine”, a pretty ballad with a reflective vocal setup from Thurman, followed by Eckroth’s gentle electric keyboard and some solid scatting by Ms. Thurman.

Cindy Blackman-Santana, Teri-Lyne Carrington, Sherrie Maricle, Allison Miller…The small sisterhood of outstanding female jazz drummers of our time must make room for a new member: Shirazette Tinnin.

Origins – Camille Thurman – She’s a saxophonist, a flutist and a vocalist so accomplished that she was the runner-up in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Camille Thurman places all of these skills on full display on Origins, her second album. With first-call pros such as Luis Perdomo, Rudy Royston, Enoch Smith, Jr. and label mate Shirazette Tinnin along for support, Ms. Thurman has created a rich, multifaceted work of art that is never boring and is at times, outstanding. Like Jones and Tinnin, Ms. Thurman is also a first-rate composer who has contributed a number of fine pieces to the project. Among them are the title track, which is a Shorteresque up tempo workout; “In Duetime”, a joyous tune with a cool Brazilian influence, evincing Ms.Thurman’s proficiency on the flute as well as her facility as a scat vocalist; and “Pursuit With a Purpose” a melodious jazz waltz that gives plenty of solo room to all, with a terrific piano turn by Mr. Smith. There is also a compelling cover of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”, with Ms. Thurman throwing down on a delightfully staccato tenor lead. Because her musical gifts are so wide-ranging, Ms. Thurman’s album is the most diverse of the three and that perhaps gives Origin a very slight edge.

Hot Tone Music is a great concept, a great business model and most important, it has started off with three great albums. Congratulations to Mimi Jones and company. We’re looking forward to more exciting things from you in 2015 and beyond.

Jazz Artists We Lost in 2014 – Part II

Posted in In Memoriam, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2015 by curtjazz

To yesterday’s list we add another group of jazz great who passed on in 2014. We remember them and we celebrate and forever cherish their artistry:

  • John Blake 
  • Joe Bonner 
  • Jackie Cain (Jackie & Roy) 
  • Roy Campbell 
  • Paul Horn 
  • Herb Jeffries 
  • Ronny Jordan 
  • Idris Muhammad 
  • Frank Strazzeri 
  • Kenny Wheeler 
  • Joe Wilder 

May they all Rest In Peace

Memories of You – Jazz Artists We Lost in 2014: Part 1

Posted in In Memoriam, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2015 by curtjazz

Before we totally immerse ourselves in the New Year, I want to look back and remember some of the great jazz artists that we lost in 2014. While they may have left this place, we are so blessed that we are able through today’s technology, to look back a fondly remember why their art will live forever.

May they all rest in peace.

  • Buddy DeFranco 
  • Kenny Drew, Jr. 
  • Charlie Haden 
  • Wayne Henderson (The Crusaders – trombone) 
  • Tim Hauser (Manhattan Transfer) 
  • Joe Sample 
  • Jimmy Scott 
  • Horace Silver 
  • Gerald Wilson 

Please not that this is not an exhaustive list. There will be additional remembrances in Part 2.

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