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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

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2017 Grammy Nominations: Jazz categories

Posted in 2017 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by curtjazz

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Congratulations to all of the artists nominated for Grammy Awards in the jazz related categories. Since they often include jazz artists, we’ve also included the nominations in the instrumental arrangement and composition categories in this list. The awards will be presented on Sunday, February 12, 2017, in a portion of the program prior to the nationally televised broadcast. More on the nominated, albums, performances and artists will follow in the coming weeks.

Best improvised jazz solo

“Countdown” — Joey Alexander, soloist

“In Movement” — Ravi Coltrane, soloist

“We See” — Fred Hersch, soloist

“I Concentrate On You” — Brad Mehldau, soloist

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — John Scofield, soloist

Best jazz vocal album

“Sound of Red” — René Marie

“Upward Spiral” — Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling

“Take Me to the Alley” — Gregory Porter

“Harlem On My Mind” — Catherine Russell

“The Sting Variations” — The Tierney Sutton Band

Best jazz instrumental album

“Book of Intuition” — Kenny Barron Trio

“Dr. Um” — Peter Erskine

“Sunday Night at the Vanguard” — The Fred Hersch Trio

“Nearness” — Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau

“Country For Old Men” — John Scofield

Best large jazz ensemble album

“Real Enemies” — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

“Presents Monk’estra, Vol. 1” — John Beasley

“Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles” — John Daversa

“All L.A. Band” — Bob Mintzer

“Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom” — Ted Nash Big Band

Best Latin jazz album

“Entre Colegas” — Andy González

“Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw” — Brian Lynch & Various Artists

“Canto América” — Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace La Orquesta Sinfonietta

“30” — Trio Da Paz

“Tribute to Irakere: Live In Marciac” — Chucho Valdés

Best instrumental composition

“Bridge of Spies (End Title)” — Thomas Newman, composer

“The Expensive Train Set (An Epic Sarahnade For Double Big Band)” — Tim Davies, composer

“Flow” — Alan Ferber, composer

“L’Ultima Diligenza Di Red Rock”  Versione Integrale — Ennio Morricone, composer

“Spoken at Midnight” — Ted Nash, composer

Best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella

“Ask Me Now” — John Beasley, arranger

“Good Swing Wenceslas” — Sammy Nestico, arranger

“Linus & Lucy” — Christian Jacob, arranger

“Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” — John Daversa, arranger

“We Three Kings” — Ted Nash, arranger

“You And I” — Jacob Collier, arrange

Best arrangement, instruments and vocals

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” — Gordon Goodwin, arranger (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Featuring Take 6)

“Do You Want To Know a Secret” — John Daversa, arranger (John Daversa Featuring Renee Olstead)

“Flintstones” — Jacob Collier, arranger (Jacob Collier)

“I’m a Fool to Want You” — Alan Broadbent, arranger (Kristin Chenoweth)

“Somewhere (Dirty Blvd)” (Extended Version) — Billy Childs & Larry Klein, arrangers (Lang Lang Featuring Lisa Fischer & Jeffrey Wright)

Male Jazz Singers – Hope for the Future

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by curtjazz

Ori DaganIn 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”).  He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.

One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.

Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.

However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.

Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.

In alphabetical order:

Ori Dagan

Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three

José James

The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and you’re on the right track.  His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.

Gregory Porter

Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010’s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.

Milton Suggs

Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully  displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection).  Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.

Sachal Vasandani

Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).

2013 Jazz Grammy® Preview #2 – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2013 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by curtjazz

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…

Grammys 2012 Nominees – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2012 Grammys, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2012 by curtjazz

Okay Jazz Peeps, the Grammys do feel a bit empty this year, after the purge of many categories, including jazz.

However, there are still some fine artists, who did great work over the past year, and whose work has been nominated. These people had nothing to do with the shortsighted decision-making of the NARAS, so I want to take a few posts to recognize them, with a track from their nominated work.  I’ll also include a few brief thoughts about each work. 

We’ll start with Best Jazz Vocal Album

The nominees are:

Karrin Allyson – ‘Round Midnight (Concord Records): Track “Goodbye”

IMO this is not Ms. Allyson’s best work, but she is still one of the best around today.  It’s well sung, as always but the Only The Lonely vibe wore thin after a while.

Terri Lyne Carrington – The Mosaic Project (Concord Records): Track “Transformation” [Vocal by Nona Hendryx]

My hands down favorite among the nominated albums, it’s a mostly vocal effort by Ms. Carrington and a number of other ladies.  One of our picks for Best Jazz Albums of 2011.

Kurt Elling – The Gate (Concord Records): Track “Golden Lady”

Mr. Elling is a perennial nominee in this category, who finally won on his prior nomination for his strong Coltrane/Hartman tribute Dedicated To You.  Though The Gate had some fine moments, I found it overall, to be just “okay”.

Tierney Sutton – American Road (BFM Jazz): Track “Wayfaring Stranger”

This album was a big favorite among the critics and it just may take home the prize on Sunday. Excellent musicianship; I just wished that it swung a little harder.

Roseanna Vitro – The Music of Randy Newman (Motéma): Track “Mama Told Me Not To Come

This is another personal favorite in this category. I’ve long been a fan of Randy Newman’s sardonic wit and wondered when a jazz vocalist would mine the Newman songbook to great extent.  Ms. Vitro seemed at first like an unlikely choice, but she sings the songs as if they were written for her and the arrangements are first-rate. She is a longshot in this category but it would not be at all disappointing to see her win.