To borrow from Maddux and Glavine in those classic Nike commercials, “people dig the singers”. So the next category that we’ll cover in our 2013 Jazz Grammy Preview always draws a great deal of public interest, whether it’s warranted or not.
Here are the nominees for Best Jazz Vocal Album, along with a few of my opinions:
Soul Shadows – Denise Donatelli (Savant)
This is the second nomination in the past three years in this category for this former CNN reporter turned jazz vocalist. When Lights Are Low, her previously nominated disc, stuck to the straight ahead side of the street; however Soul Shadows mixes things up a bit, leaning heavily on African, Brazilian and Latin poly-rhythms The overall result is an album with a lighter, more contemporary sound than its predecessor. Ms. Donatelli is a very fine singer, with an engaging voice and Geoffrey Keezer’s production hits all the right notes. However, because she is still relatively unknown and Grammy voters love familiarity, Soul Shadows is a long shot on February 10.
1619 Broadway (The Brill Building Project) – Kurt Elling (Concord)
Kurt Elling has become a perennial nominee in this category – this is his tenth nomination. He deservedly won in 2010 for his excellent Coltrane/Hartman tribute Dedicated to You. However his last two discs, including this one, though nominated, have been a bit of a disappointment. 1619 Broadway has a marvelous concept and it does have a few bright spots but overall, it misses the mark. It’s another long shot on Grammy night, due mainly to the presence in this category of a couple of Big, Shiny Names that are going to draw a lot of voter attention.
Live – Al Jarreau and the Metropole Orkest (Concord)
Say “hello” to Big, Shiny Name #1. The legendary seven-time Grammy winner (and thirteen-time nominee) looms over this category on awards night like the proverbial 800 lb. Gorilla. Live is a good album but it’s not a great one. Like Sinatra in his later years, the 72-year-old Mr. Jarreau is not what he used to be but he can still hit the high points occasionally and he knows how to use what he’s got left to his advantage. Because of who he is, Al Jarreau stands an excellent chance of taking home his eighth Grammy in February, with his only likely competition coming from the other Big, Shiny Name.
The Book of Chet – Luciana Souza (Sunnyside)
Here you have it folks, the best of the albums nominated in this category but it stands very little chance of winning the Grammy. Ms. Souza, the fine Brazilian jazz singer is one of the least known of the nominees in the U.S. and that is going to hurt her with the voters; which is a shame, because this album, one of two of hers that were nominated this year, is sublime. This Chet Baker tribute is appropriately spare and consistently moving. Ms. Souza and her pianoless trio meld ten songs closely associated with the vocal side of the jazz icon, into a seamless, haunting statement. Is it melancholy? Yes, but it is also gorgeous. Under different circumstances, The Book of Chet would be a favorite. But now, it is a likely also-ran.
Radio Music Society – Esperanza Spalding (Heads Up)
And last but not least, we have Big, Shiny Name #2. Radio Music Society is Esperanza’s first album since her upset Best New Artist Grammy win in 2010 (which sent many of us jazz pundit types running through the streets in various stages of bet-losing undress). Whether this album is “jazz” or not has been argued ad infinitum, so I won’t rehash that here. The bottom line is that it is nominated in this category and Esperanza Spalding is now almost as well-known as Al Jarreau. Therefore she stands about as good of a chance of winning this year’s Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy as the old scat master.
These tracks and others from Grammy nominated jazz albums can be heard on Curt’s Café Noir, our 24/7 web radio station, right up until February 10. We feature these tracks daily, from 4 pm – 6 pm on “The Grammy Show”. Click here to listen.
In our next Grammy related post, we will discuss the nominees for the other “big” jazz award – Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Until then, The Jazz Continues…