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2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2019 by curtjazz

BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM

In the second of the two biggest jazz categories, we have a race between a great saxophonist who is finally earning a little recognition; two of the finest pianists working today; a respected veteran who is still getting it done and a true legend, admired and respected by all.

The nominees are:

DIAMOND CUT
Tia Fuller

The crackle from the moment her alto enters…twenty seconds into the first tune (“In the Trenches”), I had that feeling that this album was going to be a great one. Ms. Tia Fuller has been on the scene for over a decade. She has paid the bills for a while, working with Beyonce’s road band, but whenever she steps into the studio under her own name, she is an unapologetic jazz player. She hadn’t released a project in six years, prior to Diamond Cut. She has been missed. This project is different in many ways, from her previous four albums; for one thing, it is produced by the amazing Terri Lyne Carrington. For another, there’s no piano. Guitarist Adam Rogers handles the chordal duties. And, there are two different bass/drum duos, splitting the work; James Genus and Bill Stewart are one set and the other two, you may have heard of: Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. As for Ms. Fuller’s sound, clearly, the Berklee professor was ready to take everyone to school. She masters what she needs to be in that moment; she is at turns, gritty, soulful and even a bit on the outside. Diamond Cut is a very strong album and Ms. Fuller deserves her first Grammy nomination for it. However, this category also features someone who has been making great music since before Tia was born. Most likely, it will be his night.


LIVE IN EUROPE
Fred Hersch Trio

This Fred Hersch album has been nominated for two Grammys. The odds of Hersch winning either are fairly long, despite the fact that it is another excellent disc, from one of the finest pianists of our time. What is the problem? Part of it may be timing; Mr. Hersch seems to often run up against a hot project that has caught the attention of the jazz public and media. When this happens, other master musicians, like Hersch, get lost in the noise. Another issue may be his steady excellence. Hersch is not flashy. Even though he wrote an interesting and well received autobiography in 2017, and he has had some fascinating life issues over the past few years, he still generally, flies under the radar. Fred Hersch is so uniformly good, that he is taken for granted. He has been nominated for 14 Grammys. Hopefully, the voters will wise up soon. This year, I don’t think it will be in this category.


SEYMOUR READS THE CONSTITUTION!
Brad Mehldau Trio

The story behind this album’s title, is as interesting as it should be. Apparently, Mr. Mehldau has a dream, in which the late, Oscar winning actor, Seymour Phillip Hoffman, was reading the U.S. Constitution. The tune that Mehldau heard, accompanying Hoffman’s voice, became the inspiration for the title track. Despite the odd title, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, is the most accessible album that I’ve heard from Brad Mehldau, in quite a while. The trio swings hard through a collection of originals, standards, minor jazz classics and Beach Boys tunes (yes, you heard right), with gusto and without condescension. Like Hersch, Mehldau is double nominated for this album (his 9th, without a win, so far). It’s fine work but he’s likely to run into a “Shorter” wall here. In the Best Instrumental Solo category, however, he’s got a good shot.


STILL DREAMING
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade

I can’t believe that the saxophone wunderkind of the 90’s, Joshua Redman, has just turned 50. I can believe that he is still evolving and getting stronger at his craft, more than 25 years after he first floored us jazzheads with his debut album. Though he is the son of a famed avant-gardist, his early years were deeply in the tradition (as I’m sure Warner Bros. wanted it). On this latest album, which garnered his seventh nomination, he pays tribute to his dad, Dewey, and Old and New Dreams, a group that Dewey played in, from the mid 70’s through the mid 80’s. That group, which also included legends Charlie Haden and Don Cherry, itself paid homage to their mentor, the patron saint of avant-garde jazz, Ornette Coleman. Still Dreaming is excellent, start to finish – terrific compositions and it stretches the boundaries of form, without completely breaking them. It is similar to Christian McBride’s New Jawn album, also from last year. I confess that I only gave this album a passing listen upon its release, but now that I’ve returned to it, I truly dig it, a lot. Perhaps it should have been on my Best of 2018 list. However, we are talking Grammy here, folks. Redman has never won one. He is a respected veteran and his star has stretched outside of the insular jazz world at times, over the past quarter century. But, due to the presence of our next nominee, I’m afraid that his wait is likely to extend beyond this weekend.


EMANON
The Wayne Shorter Quartet

Wayne Shorter is a true musical legend. He one of the greatest jazz saxophonists and composers of our time. In addition to his work as a leader, he has been an integral part of three of the greatest groups in jazz history. He has created transcendent musical art in every decade since the early 1960s. He has been nominated for a Grammy 21 times and has, so far, won 10, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2015. He is also now 85 years old. So no one would blame Wayne Shorter, if he were to simply sit back, at this point and collect all of the accolades that are due to him, no one would be upset. So what does he do? He creates a symphonic masterpiece and releases it, in an epic three CD (God only knows how many LP) set, that includes a graphic novel. These new and challenging compositions are performed by a symphony orchestra and then live, by his current working quartet! Emanon is a brilliant work of musical art (I confess that I have not yet seen the graphic novel). I hope that Mr. Shorter has more in him and keeps sharing it with us, for at least another 20 years. If, as some have said, this is his final work, then it is a towering valedictory. Will he win this Grammy? Ummm, Yeah.

As for the opinions and unscientific predictions:

Should have been nominated:

Origami Harvest – Ambrose Akinmusire; Both Directions at Once (The Lost Album) – John Coltrane; The Future is Female – Roxy Coss

Who should win: Wayne Shorter

Who will win: Wayne Shorter

I would not be disappointed to see them win: Tia Fuller

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2019 Jazz Grammy Nominations

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by curtjazz

Usually I drop this list of jazz (and jazz-related) nominees, on the day of the nominations but we’re still about a month from the awards, so I figured I still had some time.

Interesting mix this year of nominees; some usual suspects and some first-timers. I will be dropping my thoughts and predictions for each category, periodically, over the next few weeks, leading up to the ceremony on Sunday, February 10.

The nominees are:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
For an instrumental jazz solo performance. Two equal performers on one recording may be eligible as one entry. If the soloist listed appears on a recording billed to another artist, the latter’s name is in parenthesis for identification. Singles or Tracks only.

SOME OF THAT SUNSHINE
Regina Carter, soloist
Track from: Some Of That Sunshine (Karrin Allyson)

DON’T FENCE ME IN
John Daversa, soloist
Track from: American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

WE SEE
Fred Hersch, soloists

DE-DAH
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Seymour Reads The Constitution! (Brad Mehldau Trio)

CADENAS
Miguel Zenón, soloist
Track from: Yo Soy La Tradición (Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

MY MOOD IS YOU
Freddy Cole

THE QUESTIONS
Kurt Elling

THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE
Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, Gary Versace

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

THE WINDOW
Cécile McLorin Salvant

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

DIAMOND CUT
Tia Fuller

LIVE IN EUROPE
Fred Hersch Trio

SEYMOUR READS THE CONSTITUTION!
Brad Mehldau Trio

STILL DREAMING
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade

EMANON
The Wayne Shorter Quartet

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

ALL ABOUT THAT BASIE
The Count Basie Orchestra Directed By Scotty Barnhart

AMERICAN DREAMERS: VOICES OF HOPE, MUSIC OF FREEDOM
John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists

PRESENCE
Orrin Evans And The Captain Black Big Band

ALL CAN WORK
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

BAREFOOT DANCES AND OTHER VISIONS
Jim McNeely & The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Best Latin Jazz Album
The intent of this category is to recognize recordings that represent the blending of jazz with Latin, Iberian-American, Brazilian, and Argentinian tango music.

HEART OF BRAZIL
Eddie Daniels

BACK TO THE SUNSET
Dafnis Prieto Big Band

WEST SIDE STORY REIMAGINED
Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band

CINQUE
Elio Villafranca

YO SOY LA TRADICIÓN
Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
(aka Best Contemporary Jazz Album)

THE EMANCIPATION PROCRASTINATION
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

STEVE GADD BAND
Steve Gadd Band

MODERN LORE
Julian Lage

LAID BLACK
Marcus Miller

PROTOCOL 4
Simon Phillips

Best Instrumental Composition
A Composer’s Award for an original composition (not an adaptation) first released during the Eligibility Year. Singles or Tracks only.

BLUT UND BODEN (BLOOD AND SOIL)
Terence Blanchard, composer (Terence Blanchard)

CHRYSALIS
Jeremy Kittel, composer (Kittel & Co.)

INFINITY WAR
Alan Silverstri, composer (Alan Silvestri)

MINE MISSION
John Powell & John Williams, composers (John Powell & John Williams)

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Alexandre Desplat, composer (Alexandre Desplat)

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella
An Arranger’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

BATMAN THEME (TV)
Randy Waldman & Justin Wilson, arrangers (Randy Waldman Featuring Wynton Marsalis)

CHANGE THE WORLD
Mark Kibble, arranger (Take 6)

MADRID FINALE
John Powell, arranger (John Powell)

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Alexandre Desplat, arranger (Alexandre Desplat)

STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER
John Daversa, arranger (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals
An Arranger’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
Matt Rollings & Kristin Wilkinson, arrangers (Willie Nelson)

JOLENE
Dan Pugach & Nicole Zuraitis, arrangers (Dan Pugach)

MONA LISA
Vince Mendoza, arranger (Gregory Porter)

NIÑA
Gonzalo Grau, arranger (Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider)

SPIDERMAN THEME
Mark Kibble, Randy Waldman & Justin Wilson, arrangers (Randy Waldman Featuring Take 6 & Chris Potter)

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 3 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by curtjazz

Brandee YoungerAs the luck of the alphabetical draw would have it, our third set of the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, comes from a group of artists who are through no fault of their own, relatively unknown. It includes a woman who plays an instrument rarely heard as a lead in jazz. On the other hand we have a woman who plays a very familiar instrument, though some are still shocked to find out that women in jazz play it. There is also a talented pianist who is now starting to make his mark with a larger ensemble; a saxophonist who took a few risks, with great rewards and finally, a bassist who has blended jazz with the music of his ancestral roots with impressive results.

  • Live @ the Breeding Ground – Brandee Younger 4Tet (CD Baby) – This album was released about two weeks after it was recorded. The audio mix is a bit rough in spots but the musical vibe is so raw and electric that I got goosebumps when I first heard it. Brandee Younger is making her mark playing an instrument that few in jazz have been able to successfully master; the harp. But like this unwieldy instrument’s most famous jazz master, the late Dorothy Ashby, Ms. Younger is doing it on her own terms and breaking new ground with every performance. Live @ the Breeding Ground is great because the tension between the naturally ethereal sound of  the lead instrument and the hard-driving R & B cum jazz groove, laid by the first call sidemen (big props to Dezron Douglas’ killer bass lines), kept me listening with a “stank face”. This is Brandee Younger’s first full length disc. Very impressive indeed.

  • A Meeting of Minds – Sheryl Bailey (Cellar Live) – Someone please tell Sheryl Bailey to stay off of my Best Of lists! A Meeting of Minds is her third straight album to land here. All jokes aside, Sheryl Bailey is one of the best guitarists in jazz today, period. On her last three albums, she has led a quartet with piano, a big band and now an organ trio. She has killed in every setting. Still, she is fairly obscure, even in the jazz world. A person who discovered her from my blog (and dug her) commented, “I didn’t know that there were any female jazz guitarists…” Anyway, A Meeting of Minds, has Sheryl Bailey, crushing it once again. This time with organ and drums. That should be all you need to know to get you excited.

  • Mother’s Touch – Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone) – 2014 was a strong year for big bands.  And pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black group is one of the most interesting of the newer groups. It’s not a traditional swing outfit. Though they can cook in a 4/4 setting, they really shine in the complex, post bop and modal space that their leader’s compositions place them. Their work on Evans’ “In My Soul” and Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies” are the standouts on an extremely fine set.

  •  Music Appreciation – Chris Greene (Single Malt) – Yeah!!! That was the word that escaped from my mouth repeatedly as I got my first listen to this 2 disc set from the Chicago (actually Evanston) based saxophonist. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Greene’s work for a number of years now and it has been exciting to listen as he developed his own voice. Consider Music Appreciation the announcement of his arrival. It’s kind of ballsy for an unheralded artist to drop a two disc set but  Greene and Co. more than justify the decision by playing a strong mix of originals and covers; taking some very interesting risks in the process, such as “Equinox” as a laid back reggae groove with soprano lead. Throughout it all, Mr. Greene and his longtime band deliver the goods, with the leader’s big toned tenor and calmly expressive soprano spurring everyone else on.  Green demonstrates that he can handle the ballads and the flag wavers with equal aplomb.  Let me say it one more time: Yeah!!!  

 

  • New Song – Omer Avital (Motema) – Mr. Avital, a bassist who has been a top sideman on the New York scene for a number of years, is an Israeli with Yemenite and Moroccan roots. His Mizrahi heritage, its folk songs and its rhythms  are all over this rich and musically satisfying set. Avital’s compositions are the star. He has created melodies that are authentic, moving and dare I say it, grooving. And thankfully, he has, in his working group, a quintet of musicians who understand the music and present it with the right mix of jazz sensibility and Middle Eastern Soul. The front line of Avishai Cohen on trumpet and Joel Frahm on tenor is a good as any working in jazz today. New Song is an intelligent album that also knows how to have a good time. 

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now through January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include albums 16 – 20 on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

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…

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.