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.
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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)
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)
Live In NYC (Obliqsound)
Beautiful Life (Concord Records)
Paris Sessions (BFM Jazz)
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)
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)
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)