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.
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 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.
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