Archive for Best Jazz Vocal Album

2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2019 by curtjazz

BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM

An eclectic group in this category, this year. It includes two past winners, who must be considered the favorites. There is also a veteran performer, a member of a legendary musical family, who is still seeking his first Grammy in a career that has spanned over half a century.

The nominees are:

MY MOOD IS YOU
Freddy Cole

Truth be told, I am rooting like mad for Freddy Cole to win this Grammy. But realistically, I don’t think that it will happen. Though he has done some very fine work over his 55-year career as a recording artist, he has, like it or not, always been in the massive shadow of his legendary older brother. At 87, this is his fourth Grammy nomination, all of them since 2000. Why don’t I think he will win, even though he is clearly a sentimental favorite? In the jazz categories, Grammy has never been that sentimental, unless you are a virtual household name (Miles; Herbie; Chick; Rollins, etc.). And Mr. Cole is undeservedly still relatively obscure, outside of the jazz world. A lot of the voters are not going to know him. Musically, My Mood is You is very good but not great. At this point, the slight gravel in his baritone voice (which in his early days, was eerily like his brother’s), has become more pronounced. He will now often talk his way around phrases that he used to glide through. Still, he gives every young jazz and pop singer a master class in phrasing and interpretation, especially on the ballads. The poignant, “I’ll Always Leave the Door a Little Open”, ranks among the top 10 recorded performances, ever. Grammy, I want you to prove me wrong and give this award to Freddy Cole.


THE QUESTIONS
Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling has been nominated for 13 Grammys, winning in this category, in 2009, for his excellent Hartman/Coltrane tribute album.  I admired his work on The Questions, an album with a reflective, pop-rock undertone, on which he reimagines tunes by Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Jaco Pastorius, among others. There is impressive solo work by Branford Marsalis, who also co-produced and by the rising trumpet star, Marquis Hill. Again, this was an album, that personally, I admired but didn’t love. It is very well played and earnestly delivered, but I missed Elling’s casual swing and the wry humor that he brings to most of his work. This was by design and an artist of his stature is more than entitled to move outside of the box, when he chooses. Given his past win and his strong name recognition, he has solid chance of picking up Grammy number two on Sunday. I can see only one nominee beating him out.


THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE
Kate McGarry With Keith Ganz & Gary Versace

This Kate McGarry’s second Grammy nomination. The first was ten years ago, in this same category. I’ve been a fan of Ms. McGarry and her easy going jazz/coffeehouse sound, since reviewing her 2007 album, The Target for Jazz Inside Magazine. This album, which was recorded with the backing of Keith Ganz on guitar/bass and Gary Versace on organ/accordion is beautifully intimate, as is quite appropriate on a work that deals with love, in all of its phases and forms. There is nothing sappy about the love songs here; this is a bright and fun work. Will it win a Grammy? Probably not. Even in the jazz world, indie projects rarely win the trophy, even if they are nominated, which is very unfortunate. So I absolutely suggest that you add this project to your collection but don’t expect to see them picking up the award.


IF YOU REALLY WANT
Raul Midón With the Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza

On this album, his second in a row to be nominated, Raul Midón steps fully into the pop-jazz territory that was owned by the late Al Jarreau, for the last 25 years of his illustrious career. He sounds like Jarreau, phrases like him and now, he has even recorded an album with Metropole Orkest, the Dutch powerhouse aggregation, that backed Jarreau on his last Grammy winning album, in 2012. Mr. Midón and this band were made for each other. Their big brassy sound wraps around his joyous tenor, like a glove. With a little more promotional push, this album will be a huge seller in the contemporary jazz market. It is filled with infectious hooks, punchy brass and Midón’s soaring vocals and “Al Con Salsa” scatting. However, in spite of all of that, I think Raul will go home empty handed, for the second year in a row. There is too much strong and better known competition. But this cat is going to hit paydirt soon, trust and believe.


THE WINDOW
Cécile McLorin Salvant

The defending champ in this category. Every one of her major label releases has been nominated for this award and the last two of them (For One to Love and Dreams and Daggers), have gone home winners. She is one of the most popular traditional jazz singers on the scene today, she has strong name recognition, she is a prodigiously gifted vocalist and you know what else? This album is damn good. For the most part, it’s just Ms. McLorin Salvant and the piano of Sullivan Fortner, having glorious conversations. Some were recorded in the studio and some in jazz’s cathedral; the Village Vanguard. She covers everyone, from Stevie Wonder to Bessie Smith to Leonard Bernstein and beyond. But stay until the end, because McLorin Salvant and Fortner are joined by the marvelous Melissa Aldana, on tenor saxophone, for a stunning version of Jimmy Rowles’ jazz classic “The Peacocks”. Yeah. If she doesn’t make it 3 out of 4, it will be a pretty big upset.

The comments and unscientific predictions:

Should have been nominated (and I feel very strongly about it): The Genius of Eddie Jefferson – Alan Harris; Some of That Sunshine – Karrin Allyson; Unbroken – Tiffany Austin

Should Win: Cécile McLorin Salvant

Will Win: Cécile McLorin Salvant

I Will Be Thrilled if They Do Win: Freddy Cole

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.