Archive for Best Jazz Vocal Album

Best Jazz Vocals of 2017 (Part 2): A Closer Look

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2018 by curtjazz

Happy New Year, everyone.

Well, this didn’t work out the way I intended.

ori dagan nathanielI posted my “Best of; Pt. 2”, list a couple of weeks ago, fully expecting to follow quickly with comments on each of the albums. This vicious strain of the flu that is out this season, had other ideas. The last thing I will say about Flu 2017/18, is I haven’t had any bug knock me out like that in at least 20 years. It’s real, it’s quick, and it’s strong; so please take care of yourselves.

Now back to the Music – The five best jazz vocal albums that I heard during the last half of 2017, in alpha order by album title:

 

Code Noir – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia)

Another brilliant work from this vocal master, Code Noir (which takes its title from the infamous French colonial slave laws) is a lush and dreamily soulful album. Don’t let the ethereal qualities lull you into a false sense of relaxation, lest you miss some of the most poignant lyrical messages of Ms. Lundy’s career. The marvelous Patrice Rushen is on the keys, reminding those who may have forgotten, that she is far more than just “Forget Me Nots”. The underrated Jeff Parker plays some dynamite guitar.  Listen once (or twice) for the lyrics, then let yourself get lost inside of the marvelous instrument that is Ms. Lundy’s voice. There’s not another one like it today in jazz.

Dreams and Daggers – Cecile McLorin Salvant (Mack Avenue)

I must keep reminding myself that she is not yet 30 years old. But that’s a frightening statement because it’s also a reminder that, as good as she is, Cecile McLorin Salvant, has still not yet reached her pinnacle. This is her first live album (mostly recorded at the legendary Village Vanguard), a two-disc set and there’s not a dud in the bunch. She is wondrously accomplished, self-assured, captivating and funny and often, she is all of these things, at once. I also loved the fact that there are very few tired old warhorses; Ms. Salvant mines the songbooks of Bob Dorough, Langston Hughes, (a hilariously raunchy) Bessie Smith, and the quirky, tongue in cheek sides of Broadway scores. And she makes them all her own. I will also no longer compare her, even favorably, to some of her legendary forbearers, for Cecile McLorin Salvant, has arrived, on her own terms.

Grace – Lizz Wright (Concord)

I would love this album, if only for the fact that it once and for all, reclaims Allen Toussaint’s wonderful “Southern Nights” from that crude and misguided megahit Glen Campbell version, after forty years. But there’s so much more here.  On her own work, Ms. Wright consistently delivers a beautiful and deeply personal amalgam of jazz, gospel and bluesy folk music. I’ve been listening intently since her impressive 2003 debut, Salt and she has never been better than she is on Grace. It is a starkly beautiful and majestic work of art, with songs by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. If you love the sacred or the secular, you will be completely filled with Grace.

Nathaniel (A Tribute to Nat King Cole) – Ori Dagan (Scat Cat)

There were higher profile vocal tributes to the great “King” Cole in 2017 but none were better than this surprising effort from the up and coming Canadian baritone. Ori Dagan keeps proceedings fresh by using his customary sense of humor and by adding 5 of his own compositions, most of which are quite good. In fact, a couple fit in so well, that I assumed that they were quirky, novelty rarities from the King Cole Trio’s heyday, until I read the liner notes. Mr. Dagan also wisely avoids anything that would even approach a perceived impersonation of one of the great voices and stylists of the 20th Century. So, what do we get? We have one of the unique talents of contemporary jazz singing, bringing us his interpretation of some tunes closely and not-so-closely associated with the legend. I like what he was going for, and overall, I loved how it turned out. Plus, he’s got the estimable Sheila Jordan, guesting on a delightful take of “Straighten Up and Fly Right”. Even a Cole fan like me, couldn’t ask for much more.

Rendering – Kellye Gray (Grr8)

This album by this husky-voiced vocalist has the most interesting backstory of any on this list: In 1989, Kellye recorded Standards in Gray, her debut album, for Justice Records, a small Houston area label (I loved many of their releases). It received good press and sold relatively well. However, when Justice fell on hard times, the album went out of print. In 2015, 25 years after Standards in Gray’s release, Ms. Gray gained ownership rights to her album. She decided to crowd-fund and produce a live concert/album, in tribute to the original album, including new recordings of some of the tracks on Standards… The result is the terrific Rendering, a 2 CD set, that includes the new live recordings and a copy of the first album.

Ms. Gray had escaped my notice, until this package arrived at my door. Suffice to say, I am very impressed. While Standards in Gray, is a portrait of a young, big voiced singer, with loads of promise, Rendering, shows us that in the ensuing 25 years, Kellye Gray has made the transition from earnest singer to jazz vocalist. That wonderful instrument of hers has developed nuance and a certain bit of inimitability. She has learned her way around and through a song; which makes the live album, very compelling and worthy of multiple listens.  The arrangements are first rate, as are her sidemen, including the late drummer Sebastian Whittaker, who played on the first date and poignantly, in one of his last recordings, on the live album as well. If your new to Ms. Gray (like me), my advice is to start with these two albums and work your way back. There’s a lot of fine music there.

And those are my five vocal favorites for the 2nd half of 2017.

A reminder, these were my selections for the 1st half of the year:

You can click HERE to read my post about that Fab Five.

Now that the flu is almost behind me, I’ve got a lot of posting to catch up on. Next will be the Instrumental album for the second half of the year.

Tracks from these albums and more can be heard on the new CURTJAZZ RADIO, our 24/7 jazz radio station, on the new Live365.com.

Stay healthy, my friends!

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #2 – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by curtjazz

Our second category is for the singers: Best Jazz Vocal Album. This is as strong a group of nominees for this award as I’ve seen in a while. There’s not a dud in the bunch. Though there are a number of seasoned vets here who’ve had their share of nominations, I think that it’s really a race between two relative newcomers for the trophy.

The nominees are:

Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (HighNote Records)

The 74-year-old vocalist is an under-appreciated treasure. Every few years he reappears again to drop another bit of timeless art on us. Usually these days it’s just Bey’s voice and his piano, which is more than sufficient. The World According to Andy Bey is his second Grammy nominated album, following American Song in 2005. Bey does might justice to a well mixed group of standards, his own tunes and rarely performed songs by others.  Though a win by Mr. Bey would be a great thing. It’s not likely to happen; the juggernaut of the newcomers is a bit too strong.

Lorraine Feather: Attachments (Jazzed Media)

Ms. Feather is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I love the unfailing wry wit in her lyrics and the way that she interprets them. Why another singer hasn’t done an album of Feather’s compositions is a mystery to me. The Grammy nominating committee also appreciates her , as Attachments is her third album in a row to be nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Attachments is classic Feather as she mines one of her favorite topics, relationships. Not just male/female interactions but family, friends and even vermin are discussed and wondered upon. It’s one of her best among many very good albums. This woman should get a Grammy but I don’t think that it will happen this time.

Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note Records)

Juggernaut – Part 1. Gregory Porter’s reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since he first burst on the scene with Water in 2010. His brand of soul-infused jazz singing brought him critical and commercial acclaim. Liquid Spirit, his first album for Blue Note, has garnered two Grammy nominations; one in this category for the album and the other for Best Traditional R & B Performance for the song “Hey Laura”. The album is very strong (though not IMO, as good as last year’s Be Goodwhich was also Grammy nominated) The critics love him, the fans love him and his name recognition is growing. Will Grammy love him? I’d say that there’s a good chance. The only one I think who could stop him from winning is…

Cecile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

Juggernaut – Part 2. Cecile McLorin Salvant seemingly appeared out of nowhere and dropped the best jazz vocal album of not only this year but of the last few years in WomanChild. Her way with a lyric is impeccable, her swing is right on time and her voice is unique in the best way possible. The thing is, she is just 24 years old! She’s got Abbey Lincoln’s wizened soul wrapped in her youthful, downtown cool persona. In addition, the non-jazz media  seems to be lining up behind her, with one mainstream publication stopping just short of anointing Ms. Salvant as “The Next Esperanza Spalding”. All of these stars aligning usually leads to victory on Grammy night, which I feel is a very likely case here. The only thing that may stop her is some may vote against her because of her youth but I doubt that will happen.

Tierney Sutton: After Blue (BFM Jazz)

Tierney Sutton alas, is to this Grammy category as Glenn Close is to the Oscars. Like Ms. Close, she is a very well-respected, gifted performer, whose art is always good enough to get her nominated for the big awards but in the end, she ends up being eclipsed by someone with a hot hand. After Blue gained Ms. Sutton her fifth nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  As usual, it’s a great album; focused on the music of the legendary Joni Mitchell. Sutton has given us some fresh takes on some very familiar tunes and done consistent justice to the material. Also as usual, there’s a big, shiny object that will likely attract voter’s attention away from Ms. Sutton’s steady artistry. She is the longest shot.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • Will Win: Cecile McLorin Salvant

Next up on our preview will be Best Jazz Instrumental Album, which includes another very strong field of contenders this year.