Here, There & Everywhere: the 2015 Grammy Jazz Nominations

December 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again, when the Grammy nominations are posted for members of the Recording Academy to vote for their favorite performances of the previous year.  After decades of membership, I’m no longer a member of the Academy.  But it’s always fascinating to check out the nominations.  And, although it’s interesting to see who wins the awards, it’s even more compelling to check out the surprises (or lack of same) in the choices for nominees in the various categories.

So here are the nominees in the five jazz categories.  And I suspect that most jazz listeners and observers would suggest that there are few surprising entries in the lists.  That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the choices.  Any of these nominees would be a worthy winner of the Grammy award in their category.  But, as with most annual lists of Grammy nominees there’s little to suggest real interest in encouraging the efforts of new, young talent.

That said, here’s a list of the choices (not forecasts) I would vote for in the five categories:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo: Always the most difficult category of all, given the question of how one judges the “Best” of a group of improvisations.  Anyhow, my choice would be Chick Corea, who never fails to surprise me in a solo, and he’s in fine shape in this one.  It’s also worth mentioning that his playing sounds even more impressive in the context of the stellar competition of three other superb pianists and the tenor saxophone styings of Joe Lovano.

Best Jazz Vocal album:  Why in the world does the Academy group all jazz vocal artists — male, female and ensembles — into one category.  I’m musically pleased by all these artists.  But I think Tierney Sutton’s remarkable tour de force with guitarist Serge Merlaud is a brilliant performance, as unique a vocal effort as I can recall since Sheila Jordan’s first recordings with solo bass accompaniment.


Best Jazz Instrumental Album: As with the Best Improvised Solo category it’s difficult to determine what standards of excellence to use in choosing a winner.  Note, as well, that both Chick Corea and Fred Hersch have nominations in both categories — a temptation for winners to split their ballot to vote for one or the other in one of the categories.  I, however, favor Jason Moran’s illuminating tribute to Fats Waller.


The Best Large Ensemble is overflowing with enough big jazz group sounds to delight those of us who will always be delighted by the big jazz ensemble in its many forms and sounds.  But I was especially pleased by the Clayton-Hamilton’s tribute to some of the memorable talent in the L.A. jazz world. Always — in the gifted writing and playing of John Clayton — a superb ensemble, they’re once again at their finest in this outing.  As an alternative, I could easily have chosen the briskly swinging performance by Gordon Goodwin’s always listenable Big Phat Band.

The Best Latin Jazz Album: As in the Large Ensemble category, I’ve found myself having to choose between two entries: Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Conrad Herwig’s The Latin Side of Joe Henderson.  Ultimately I couldn’t resist the presence of Joe Lovano playing Joe Henderson tunes.  But it was a tough call.


And here are all the jazz nominees.  Make your own choices.

* * * * * * * *

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

The Eye Of The Hurricane
Kenny Barron, soloist
Track from: Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio) (Whaling City Sound)

Chick Corea, soloist
Track from: Trilogy (Chick Corea Trio) (Concord Jazz)

You & the Night & the Music

Fred Hersch, soloist                                                                                                                           Track from “Floating” (Fred Hersch Trio) (Palmetto Records)

Recorda Me

Joe Lovano, soloist
Track from: The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano) (Half Note)

Sleeping Giant (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Mehliana: Taming The Dragon (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) (Nonesuch)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Masterworks)
(Billy Childs & Various Artists)

I Wanna Be Evil (Motema Music)
René Marie

Live In NYC (Obliqsound)
Gretchen Parlato

Beautiful Life (Concord Records)
Dianne Reeves

Paris Sessions (BFM Jazz)
Tierney Sutton


Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Landmarks (Blue Note Records)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

Trilogy (Concord Jazz)
Chick Corea Trio

Floating (Palmetto Records)
Fred Hersch Trio

Enjoy The View (Blue Note Records)
Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco Featuring Billy Hart

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller (Blue Note Records)
Jason Moran


Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

The L.A. Treasures Project (Capri Records, Ltd.)
The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

Life In The Bubble (Telarc International)
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music)
Rufus Reid

Live: I Hear The Sound  (Archie Ball)
Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra

OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts Recordings)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra


Best Latin Jazz Album

The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Half Note)
Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano

The Pedrito Martinez Group (Motema Music)
The Pedrito Martinez Group

The Offense Of The Drum (Motema Music)
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Second Half (Emilio Solla Music)
Emilio Solla Y La Inestable De Brooklyn

New Throned King (Label: 5Passion)
Yosvany Terry


Brian Arsenault Takes on Christmas

December 4, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

The most surrealistic experience imaginable was available to all on the evening three weeks before Christmas Eve. You simply had to switch back between your local NBC affiliate and CNN from about 8 p.m. on.

There was Mariah Carey, she of mixed racial heritage, singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” (rather badly) with some cute black kids all in white dancing behind her. It was the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting on Channel 6. Switch to CNN and there are a lot of black protestors, with some whites sprinkled in, lying down on the West Side Highway because no cop was indicted in the death of Eric Garner.


Seeing Lady Gaga sing with Tony Bennett (rather well) should be surreal enough for any Holiday Season. There’s a huge story going on in the streets of Manhattan. And so called NBC newsman Matt Lauer is introducing pop singers doing Christmas diddies. But you can’t break the night’s role, can you?

There’s so called CNN newsman Chris Cuomo leading a protestor to say what Chris Cuomo wants him to say. The question is so long and so directional that the guy would have to be a Cambridge debater to say something else.

Then there’s the Eric Garner video which caused all the stir. What can you do to bring down a 350 pound man who declines to be arrested? Then again, why is this happening at all? Over loose cigarettes. I understand that once cops place somebody under arrest they ain’t leaving till the suspect is in custody. But couldn’t you just keep talking and maybe issue a citation?

Eric Garner

We heard so much about how cameras on cops would make all the difference. The President is even ready to pay for it. Did it help here?

And what am I to make of the report that the senior officer in charge on the scene was a black female sergeant. And couldn’t they give the guy some oxygen when it was so apparent “I can’t breathe” wasn’t a bluff?

So back and forth I went with my remote control. Happy people watching Christmas tunes by their favorites. Unhappy people marching and marching, seemingly aimlessly at times, passing all the lights and fancy windows of New York City during the Holidays.

Now Fox News and MSNBC jump in. We got a Congressman on Fox saying the cops did absolutely nothing wrong and that we have to respect the grand jury system. We got a legal system “expert” on MSNBC characterizing the Staten Island DA as only politically motivated and saying our grand jury system is rotten and should be abolished.

The head spins, the mind boggles and I can’t find one voice, not one, who says what is needed is a change of heart. It is the Christmas season and there is almost a void of goodwill toward men.

Atheists put up billboards mocking religion just because they can and believers respond with something less than Christian forgiveness. Ho ho ho.

A Cleveland cop shoots a kid who’s brandishing a toy gun that sure looked real after taking about two seconds to decide to fire. Now we find out that cop resigned from a smaller city’s force right before he was about to be fired for emotional instability. Yet the smaller town cops didn’t tell the big town’s cops. Your cells scream for a drink or a sedative.

I don’t know exactly what happened in Ferguson. Probably even those involved don’t know precisely any more. Memory wraps itself around what it needs to be and what the lawyers say.

I do know that I always told my two sons, white as white can be, that if a cop stops them for any reason it should be “yes sir, no sir.” That no 16 year old ever got far with an officer by being a smart ass. If the cop did wrong, we’ll deal with it down the line, I said.

Of course, there’s no dealing with it later if your kid gets killed, is there?

We’re on the precipice of a great divide here. Changing the grand jury system won’t fix it. Launching another endless investigation won’t do it. Stricter law enforcement and more vigorous protests won’t do it. All these things have been tried to one extent or another.

There’s a story about the legendary Boston Celtics Coach Red Auerbach, a white Jew, and Bill Russell, an African American activist before white people knew what that was. Bill was supposed to be “difficult” but Red’s theory was “I’ll treat you like a man, you’ll treat me like a man and we’ll go from there.” They became not just championship coach and player. They became lifelong friends.

Brian Arsenault Takes On: Dead (and loses again)

October 25, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

I ‘d like to write something about Jack Bruce dying. But I can’t. “Crossroads” keeps playing over and over again in my head. By the way, he is dead isn’t he? Not a hoax, like one report said.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I can’t. “I Feel Free” keeps playing in my head over and over again. Guess he’s free of this “mortal coil” now. I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce’s music. But I can’t. “Sunshine of Your Love” just seems so empty now. My head won’t play that one. ‘

I’ll say this. He and Ginger never did get along very well, they say, but I think “they” never heard them play together. Man, it was magic. Over, under, sideways. Just banging off each other and Eric and it was like a frigging 90 piece orchestra. I don’t really care if they didn’t say nice things to each other.

This Wall Street stock trader I know saw one of the Cream reunion shows in New York about a decade ago and said Bruce and Baker yelled at each other between just about every song. Then just nailed it when the next song began.

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the  Playboy Jazz Festival

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Yeah, yeah Clapton has gone on to be a mega rock star, but was he ever as good as when Cream was soaring in concert or dazzling in the studio. Cream was one of the last rock “bands,” you know, not just a front man with some sidemen but a fully integrated organism where the disparate parts blended together to create a single identifiable sound.

Individually, Bruce, along with John Entwistle between them developed rock’s lead bass to a fine art form. They could play under but they could also play over. They could follow or blaze the trail. The Ox is gone too. So’s Noel Redding.

Damn, I guess somebody’s gonna die from that era about every month now. Hope it’s not every week. Too damn depressing.

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I guess the hoax stories were the real hoax and he really is dead. Damn.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson were taken at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, in Jack Bruce’s last appearance in Los Angeles.


Who Killed Cock Robin? A Reflection

August 11, 2014

by Brian Arsenault

There will be a lot of tributes to Robin Williams. Mine is simply this: whatever you fear in your darkest corner about how crazy or fucked up or ridiculous you may be, Robin was willing to say he was more so. Damn brave that and it was very comforting for the rest of us but it must have been a hell of a burden for him.

Robin Williams

To explode like in “Good Morning Vietnam” I suspect you have to plant the bombs deep in some hidden corridor where no one else goes. To ponder what demons pursue us in “Goodwill Hunting” you must have to feel the talons of such demons digging all the way in. To rave on stage for a couple hours making all kinds of sideways connections you must have to fight down that energy after with a strength that isn’t always there.

Hemingway killed himself in a state of severe depression. Sylvia Plath. Maybe Van Gogh. Others. About my only firm belief about anything is that if you are going to have one extreme, there will be an equal counterbalancing opposite extreme. It is a sobering fact of life that if there is to be goodness there must be evil, if there is to be fidelity there must be treachery, if there is to be great joy there must be nearly unbearable sadness.

So think of where Robin sometimes went when he wasn’t regaling a theater audience for a couple hours, making people nearly wet themselves laughing. When he wasn’t working on a doctor who brought joy by putting on a clown nose, when he wasn’t poking fun at an interstellar overlord who happened to be his boss, when he wasn’t putting out the fire on Mrs. Doubtfire’s bosom. For there to be so much light, there had to be consuming darkness.

Shocked at his passing? Sure. Surprised that someone who achieved art not to mention fame and fortune well beyond we mere mortals could end it? Not really. Saddened but not really surprised. It may simply mean that the price has been paid.

So long. It’s darker tonight.

Irish Tales I: “Alive Alive-O”

April 22, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

There she stands with her cart, sweet Molly Malone, just below the intense shopping of Dublin’s Grafton Street. She’s selling cockles (whatever they are) and mussels and she is delightfully well endowed. Perhaps that’s why the locals sometimes call her “the tart with a cart” and her bosoms have been polished to a whole different sheen than the rest of the statue — by what?

Molly Malone

Molly Malone

Oh well, one shouldn’t think bad thoughts. I think there’s an Italian saying to that effect.

Immortalized in song Molly is. Yet many of us miss that last verse where she dies “of a fever and no one could save her.” It was a cholera epidemic, the sadness of Molly’s life in a country where sadness seems so much a part of its history. Perhaps that’s why ’tis so easy to find a smile and a kind word there. Don’t cost nothin’. Be grateful for a good day.

Lots of Irish songs are sad. Chesterton wrote that “all their wars were merry and all their songs were sad.” Neither side of that equation is completely true but it makes a point about Ireland and the Irish.
And Irish songs on the whole tell a story. Often an historical one, frequently a hysterical one. Ever hear the one about the value of a rooster in getting hens to lay?

Feeding the swans in St. Stephens Green

So you have this musical/poetry tradition but what do you get on Irish radio? Uh, Whitney Houston and Tony Bennett and here come the Eagles. Musical drones blasting away the native habitat. It seems like a kind of cultural imperialism — a reason to not exactly hate us Yanks but maybe resent the hell out of us. Yet the Irish are so welcoming and they do seem to like our music. American pop is worldwide.

Maybe it’s why the Stones can draw huge crowds to a show in Abu Dhabi or Tokyo. I know, I know the Stones are Brit by birth, so stay calm and carry on but don’t most of them live in the States by now? And where do those blues tunes come from?

River Liffey flows to the sea.

So you get used to Irish radio stations that sound like American oldies broadcasts.

It’s television that’s the real horror. It’s bad enough that “Two and a Half Men” plays endlessly. The Sheen episodes are occasionally funny and the show has the redeeming quality of ceaseless crudity and bad taste.

But “King of Queens”!!! Never funny, never and endless promotion of the American male as emasculated twerp.

Then throw in the episodes of “Law & Order” that are so old that the lead detective has passed away. CSI and other letter shows to boot.

It’s enough to make you apologize to every Irishman you meet. Except I think they might watch the stuff.

Two differences though.

In Irish pubs from Dublin to the West at least a couple nights a week you can go hear the music of the country, old and new, played by talented local musicians and gifted singers. Kath and I were just usually too tired after a day of trying to walk across Dublin without passing a pub — Bloom doubted it could be done — to do much after dinner but read a bit and nod off.

Second difference: we were in two Irish homes during our stay and in neither one was the telly turned on.

Ah, it’s like the Irish to wage guerilla war against an oppressor.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Kathy Arsenault.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.






Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes:”50″ “They Just Keep Coming” “Time Keeps Passing” and “Crazy”

March 9, 2014

By Brian Arsenault


I try to do 50 every morning. Two sets of 25.

They call them push-ups but they are really push backs. Push backs against time. Against sagging flesh, loosening skin. A loser’s game but so what. Time always wins.

Sometimes I wish my name was Ferlinghetti, a poem in and of itself. Nobody reads the beat poets any more. Beatnik is just a slur, a joke. But those poets — Larry and Corso and Snyder. Poets for all.

Not like those guys in The New Yorker today where obscurity is valued as “true art.” Oh you didn’t get it. Too bad. It wasn’t for a slob like you.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

You didn’t need a short sighted professor peering at the page through thick glasses to understand Shelly, did you? Ginsberg is the one beat still remembered widely but more as “character,” not an artist.

But Ferlinghetti and his Dog. Dogs don’t run free anymore (hey Dylan) so we don’t get to see through their eyes and fire hydrants are cleaner. I guess. Best damn poem I ever read.

The dog trots freely in the street

And sees reality. . .

Past puddles and babies

Cats and cigars

Poolrooms and policemen

But we need to protect dogs now don’t we, so we imprison them. No one gets bit or run over in the streets. I was bitten as a kid and I saw my dog run over once. I lived. Both times.

Hey, life is a risk and if you followed a dog like Ferlinghetti did you might learn something. What’s big and what’s small. About cops and politicians and what should be peed on. About waiting for an announcement of truth.

Still waiting.

Cock your head now.

They Just Keep Coming

When I started this gig I used to look forward to the mail for the first time in a long time. Amidst the bills and sales pitches there was often a little brown envelope with a treasured CD. Time to review.

Brian Arsenault

Brian Arsenault

Now they arrive in batches. Still in brown envelopes like they used to send porn. CD after CD after CD by folks looking for just a little attention in the world of Katy Perry and John Mayer. Those two just broke up so here comes another hit.

There are singers who can really sing. Sax players who’ve taken music lessons from Angels. Little Lonelys and jazz cellos. Every amazing combination you can think of and some you haven’t.

I can’t review them all. Hell, I can’t even listen to them all. My burden but better than many burdens. Just can’t help thinking I might miss the reincarnation of Duke Ellington.

Probably we all would.

Time Keeps Passing

I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. Pretended it was because of my contempt for that spectacle. It was actually because I hadn’t seen one of the damn movies.

Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McConaughey.

I like McConaughey. (Had to check that spelling three times and still may have it wrong. I never used to need to do such a thing. But time passes.) I like McConaughey but I know him for True Detective (have you seen that?!!) not Dallas Buyer’s Club.

Damn, I just read that McConaughey won’t be back for a second season of True Detective. That’s depressing but maybe such starkness must end.

Should I catch up with the Award winners On Demand. How forceful. Or Netflix where I can’t keep up with the technology. Actually, as regards the technology, “I prefer not to.’ No one talks about Melville any more either.

Oh well.


Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

It’s funny how some things get missed. Angela Merkel, who runs Germany as far as I can tell, said that when she talked to ol’ Vlad Putin she was distressed by the fact he seemed to be living in an alternate reality, a dream world of his own making.

I only saw a mention of that once but if Angela has it right even darker forces are at work than we feared. For a long time people tried to convince themselves that Hitler wasn’t crazy and that things could be worked out. Can’t you still see that old black and white newsreel with ol’ Neville Chamberlain waving a scrap of paper to announce that he had a “deal” with ol’ Adolph.

Kinda chills me to think of that. You can sometimes negotiate even with terrorists but you can’t change crazy.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs by Lunasa and Olivia Foschi

March 17, 2013

Of Music Beyond Ireland and Back to Italy

By Brian Arsenault


 Lúnasa with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Lúnasa Records)

Up the Irish. Up the rebels. I always used to like my cousin’s husband bellowing those calls to rising first thing in the morning.

To get your dose of real Irish instrumental music with St. Patrick’s day upon us, give a listen to Lúnasa (whistles, fiddle, pipes, etc.) with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Ireland’s national orchestra).

It’s all there: jaunty jigs, melancholy melodies, mad passion, soft beauty. A wall of sound created by traditional Irish acoustic instruments enhanced by the restrained but not understated playing of the orchestra. Phil Spector might dig it, if he digs anything these days.

There are wonderful moments on several selections when Lúnasa starts on its own for several bars and then the orchestra comes up behind in support. That very moment when the orchestra begins is just dazzling. Perfection.

The surprise of this album (for me at least) is the band taking listeners to Celtic regions beyond Ireland’s shore–Brittany in western France, the former kingdoms of Galicia and Asturias, still autonomous regions in northwest and northern Spain.

The “Breton Set” is one of the delights of the album.  It is akin to Irish music but somehow different, calling across centuries to one another.

But my favorite for spunk and joy is “Morning Nightcap”. That’s not an oxymoron, darlin,’ it’s Irish.

You can get this album on i-Tunes and such in time for St. Patrick’s Day but not till mid-April in CD form. Go figure.

And if you’re anywhere near Powell, Wyoming (is anything near Powell, Wyoming?) today, on the big day itself, you can see Lúnasa at Powell High School Auditorium. Try and figure.

Olivia Foschi

Perennial Dreamer (Olivia Foschi)

Olivia Foschi tells the listener to kick off shoes and pour a glass of wine. She wants the album “to take you to a comfortable, cozy place.” But I didn’t put the CD in the Bose to be comfortable and cozy. I’d like to be thrilled, dazzled, enchanted, maybe grabbed and shaken.

And at times, Olivia, you come close.

On “Bridge” you and the piano mastery of Miki Hayama chase each other and make a perfect match.

On “Legend of the Purple Valley,” you set the mood perfectly during the opening by singing notes only. We are among the violets.

In other places, even though you’re a match for the bevy of current female jazz singers in clarity, pitch and tone, real angel stuff, I think I’m hearing the self imposed limitations of extensive music schooling. Music school is great, I’m not against it, but have you noticed how many times they tell you what you can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t do?

I just don’t hear a complete singing style of your own yet.  As a songwriter, though, you’re hitting a nice stride.  “Disillusionment,” for example. And “Secrecy and Lies.”

Take more chances.  Have you spent enough time in the clubs?  You were born and raised in the States but had the fortitude to serve an orphanage in Katmandu, gain a European education and study music in Rome.   Surely you don’t just want us to only get all cozy.

Just keep going and don’t get too comfortable.

To read more reviews, posts and columns from Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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