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2014 Jazz Grammy® Recap – The Winners and Random Thoughts

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by curtjazz

Well jazz fans, we had our annual 15 minutes of fame (literally) yesterday at the Grammys during the pre-show, which was not broadcast on television but streamed live on the web. The  winners in the jazz categories included virtually no surprises. Those that won were either the favorites or highly touted possibilities right behind the  favorites.

And the Winners Are:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo – “Orbits”: Wayne Shorter – soloist (From the album Without a Net [Blue Note Records])

The Hall of Fame saxophonist wins with his only nomination from his critically acclaimed return to Blue Note Records.

Best Jazz Vocal Album – Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note Records)

In a very minor upset, Porter beats out the phenomenal young vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant to win his first Grammy. I loved Porter’s totally real acceptance speech in which he blurted out “Hey! I got a Grammy!”

Best Jazz Instrumental Album – Terri Lyne Carrington: Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (Concord Jazz Records)

Another minor but welcome upset. In her acceptance speech the cool and classy Ms. Carrington noted that she was the first woman in history to win this particular award, which was surprising on one hand and then again, it wasn’t. It’s her second Grammy in the last three years; the other came for The Mosaic Project in 2012.

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio & Kalisz Philharmonic: Night in Calisia (Summit Records)

No surprise here at all as Grammy voters went for the safe choice of the only name among the nominees that any of them had even remotely heard of.  Mr. Brecker was not at the ceremony, leaving the acceptance chores to his Polish colleagues on the recording who struggled gamely with their English in an endearing but ultimately long-winded  speech, which drew the only use of the “musical hook” that I heard while I was watching the pre-show.

Best Latin Jazz Album – Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside/Paquito Records)

While this win was not at all unexpected, it was also utterly frustrating. For with all of the genuinely outstanding music nominated in this category, Grammy voters once again went with the most familiar choice. This is far and away not the travesty that last year was in this category but still, this award was given to a good album among some great ones. Mr. D’Rivera was also not in attendance which left the acceptance to the members of Trio Corrente, who looked to be in danger of getting the “musical hook” but didn’t.

And to wrap things up, a few “Random Thoughts” that I scribbled down during the pre-show and the broadcast Grammy Show:

  • It was great to see Latin Jazz pianist and Grammy nominee Roberto Fonseca being used as a segment presenter on the pre-show.Though English is not his first language, he soldiered on gamely, even when tasked with reading the rambling statement from an award winner who was unable to attend. Frankly, he did a better job that pre-show host Cyndi Lauper, who struggled mightily throughout.  She even at one point starkly told the audience. “I F-ck-d Up”, which was true but unnecessary to say. I’m no language prude but it just struck me as a crudely contrived way to try to curry favor in the midst of her obvious difficulties.
  • It was great to see the wonderful composer/arranger Maria Schneider take home some Grammys for her classical work on Winter Morning Walks. I also loved her impassioned plug of ArtistShare during her acceptance speech. Now if only the jazz world would show her as much love…
  • I was disappointed that no jazz artists got to perform even during the pre-show. Yet, we saw fine artists of many other genres get to show their stuff. Has it now come to the point that a live jazz performance is not even welcome during the non-broadcast segment of the ceremony?
  • Daft Punk???
  • Pharrell’s hat???
  • Madonna’s outfit???
  • Taylor Swift’s dancing???
  • Taylor Swift’s Death Stare at the end of her performance????
  • Taylor Swift. Period. – Kanye, you did this to us!!!
  • Jay-Z basically referring to his award as a “sippy cup” for his daughter, was a lame attempt at humor that came off as arrogant. I’ve liked Jay-Z and Beyonce for a long time but they are starting to put me off (not that they care).
  • Chicago would have been better without Robin Thicke. And I wish that the cats still in the group and Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine could all patch up their differences and give us at least one more taste of the real Chicago.
  • Loved Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers, Pharrell and Daft Punk’s jam.  As a fellow prostate cancer survivor any time I see Nile Rodgers up there doing his thing it is inspirational to me.

That’s all I have to say about that. I’ll have more to say about other things though before the next Grammy season and I thank you for reading.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

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2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #4 – Best Latin Jazz Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by curtjazz

The Latin Jazz category was thankfully added back to the Grammys last year. Unfortunately, it was promptly made a mockery of by the selection of the worst of the nominated albums for the award and by the arrogance of the winner in his long-winded acceptance speech. As in most of the other jazz categories this year, Latin Jazz features a very strong and culturally diverse set of nominees representing a broad spectrum of the Latin Jazz experience. This time, any of them would be a deserving victor.

The nominees are:

Buika: La Noche Más Larga (Warner Music Spain)

I confess to having never heard of Buika before her nomination. She has a new fan in me. The Miami based singer grew up in Spain. Her parents are from Equatorial Guinea. On La Noche Más Larga Buika sings mostly in her native Spanish but also in English on a stunning version of “Don’t Explain”. This album mines the connection between flamenco, Afro-Cuban music and jazz to remarkable effect and Buika’s captivating voice is just the instrument to being it to us. Now will she win a Grammy? Most likely not, as most U.S. listeners are in the same boat as I was before December. But do your homework people and listen to this amazing vocalist!

Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside/Paquito Records)

This is the second nomination this year for Paquito D’Rivera. The title track from this album was also nominated for Best Improvised Jazz Solo. Though he is naturally associated with the music of his native Cuba, Mr. D’Rivera has often dabbled in Brazilian rhythms.  He dives in headfirst on this album with the Brazilian Trio Corrente. He avoids the familiar Brazilian compositions and leaves most of the arranging to his counterparts in the group. His alto sax and clarinet wrap around the music like a glove. It’s a very good and extremely listenable album. D’Rivera’s  is the most recognizable name on this list which makes him a prohibitive favorite to win this award.

Roberto Fonseca: Yo (Concord Jazz)

This  Cuban pianist knocked my socks off with his command of the keyboard that can turn from percussively powerful to lyrically soft at the drop of a hat. It’s Jazz cum Afro-Cuban cum R&B and it just flows from beginning to end. Again, his lack of name recognition in the U.S. will work against him today, as he is a long-shot to win this award.

Omar Sosa: Eggun (Otá Records)

This album was born when Omar Sosa received a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival to compose and produce a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue.  However, instead of just wrapping a Latin beat around the famous Davis tunes as so many have done before, Mr. Sosa takes the essence of the compositions or even one of the saxophone solos from the original and forms brand new works from them, using Cuban and West African rhythms as a bed. It’s a thrilling album, especially if you’re a lover of the source material. In a just world, Eggun would be the Grammy winner. However Mr. Sosa is probably going home empty-handed.

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Latin Jazz – Jazz Latin (Patois Records)

It’s about time that Grammy got around to recognizing trombonist Wayne Wallace who is one of the best Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban musicians on the West Coast and maybe in the whole country. Mr. Wallace and his cohorts stick to the classic Mambo/Merengue/Plena style of the genre made famous by Puente, Machito, Bauzá and others. He also throws in a few surprises (such as a flute/violin/trombone “horn section”) to keep things lively. I still think that D’Rivera will win this award but if anyone in this category will pull an upset, it will be Wayne Wallace.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Omar Sosa
  • Will Win: Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente

One more preview to go before the awards show!

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #1 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by curtjazz

Well folks, here we are again. The Grammy® Awards will be handed out on Sunday, January 26. As usual, the awards in the jazz categories will be announced during the “Pre-Show” before the televised broadcast. As I have done over the past few years I’ve put together a review of the jazz category nominees, including a musical clip and my opinion about the artists chances to take some hardware home on Sunday. Let’s start as has become customary with jazz’s equivalent of Record of the Year, “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

The nominees are:

“Don’t Run”: Terence Blanchard – soloist (From the album Magnetic [Blue Note Records])

This is the best track on trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s best album in years. Frankly, I’m surprised that Magnetic did not get a Best Instrumental Jazz Album nomination. Nevertheless, this cut features great solos from Blanchard, Ravi Coltrane on soprano sax and the legendary Ron Carter on bass. Will it win? It’s got a good chance. Blanchard is fairly well-known and the record did create some mild buzz this summer. However there is a bona fide legend in this category who may stand in Blanchard’s way.

“Song for Maura”: Paquito D’Rivera – soloist (From the album Song for Maura [Sunnyside Records])

Another very strong track in this very competitive field, “Song for Maura” is an old D’Rivera composition given new life in this excellent rendition, which is the title track to D’Rivera’s summit meeting with the Brazilian group Trio Corrente. The album is nominated for a Best Latin Jazz Album Grammy. D’Rivera’s clarinet and the light Brazilian rhythms make for an intoxicating mix. It has a decent shot because of D’Rivera’s relative renown but I think he stands a better chance of the album winning.

“Song Without Words #4: Duet”: Fred Hersch – soloist (from the album Free Flying (Fred Hersch and Julian Lage) [Palmetto Records])

Pianist Fred Hersch has garnered six Grammy nominations during his career but has yet to take home the prize. That and the fact this is a brilliant classically tinged track from a brilliant album makes Hersch a sentimental favorite. However, I think that he is likely to go home empty-handed again.

“Stadium Jazz”: Donny McCaslin – soloist (From the album Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf Music)]

Donny McCaslin is the relative newcomer in this group, having been nominated to my knowledge, only once before, in 2005. “Stadium Jazz” is a fun, fusion based track and McCaslin reminds us all that he is one of the best saxophonists in the business. Unfortunately though, in this very strong field, he is a long shot.

“Orbits”: Wayne Shorter – soloist (From the album Without a Net [Blue Note Records])

Remember that legend that I was talking about earlier? Here he is. The biggest stunner of this whole nomination list this year was that this was the only nomination that Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note Records garnered. Not that this is Shorter’s best work but we all know that Grammy loves legends. But this is IMO the best performance on Without a Net and Shorter is a Jazz Hall of Famer. So although my personal favorite is Terence Blanchard, I predict that Wayne Shorter will be your winner on Sunday.

This will be a hotly contested category as will most of the jazz categories this year. Frankly I wouldn’t squawk if any of the nominees walked away victorious.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Terence Blanchard
  • Will Win: Wayne Shorter

Up next, will be Best Jazz Vocal Album. Again, there’s a clear favorite but some strong contenders.