By Don Heckman
The jazz Grammy awards are in. Early as usual, of course, since the Recording Academy again didn’t choose to present any of the awards for this great American art form during the prime time telecast (which hasn’t quite begun as I write these thoughts). Here’s the list of winners, along with the nominees and some random comments. Followed by a few other worthy honorees.
Best Contemporary Jazz Album
Grammy Award: Randy Brecker: “Randy in Brasil.”
“Floating Point,” John McLaughlin
“Cannon Re-Loaded: All-Star Celebration Of Cannonball Adderley,” Various Artists
“Miles From India,” Various Artists
“Lifecycle,” Yellowjackets featuring Mike Stern
No argument from me on this one, since it was my choice, as well. But the category itself is a grab bag. Every nomination is worthy, in its own context. And the “Miles From India” project deserves special notice for originality of concept, if nothing else. But how can one possible evaluate it in comparison with CDs from the Yellowjackets and John McLaughlin?
Best Jazz Vocal Album
Grammy Award: Cassandra Wilson: “Loverly.”
“Imagina: Songs of Brasil,” Karrin Allyson
“Breakfast on the Morning Train,” Stacey Kent
“If Less is More … Nothing is Everything,” Kate McGarry
It’s a quality field of jazz vocalists, any one of whom would have made a solid choice. But it’s good that it was won by an artist who brings a rare quality of authenticity to everything she touches. And whom, despite what the Los Angeles Times seems to think, hasn’t been at all influenced by Norah Jones.
Best Jazz Instrumental Solo
Grammy Award: Terence Blanchard: “Bebop.”
“Seven Steps to Heaven,” Till Bronner
“Waltz for Debby,” Gary Burton & Chick Corea
“Son of Thirteen,” Pat Metheny
“Be-Bop,” James Moody
Another of the Academy’s weird categories. How many voting members can honestly say that they’ve heard enough jazz solos to place one above all the others. Using what criteria? Certainly Terence deserves an award. But what about Moody, who played superbly on the same track? And how does one evaluate these individual solos in the context of Chick Corea and Gary Burton playing together?
Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group
Grammy Award: Chick Corea and Gary Burton: “The New Crystal Silence”
“History, Mystery,” Bill Frisell
“Brad Mehldau Trio: Live,” Brad Mehldau Trio
“Day Trip,” Pat Metheny With Christian McBride & Antonio Sanchez
“Standards,” Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter & Peter Erskine Trio
My choice here would either have been Frisell’s “History, Mystery” or the lovely album of standards by the Pasqua, Carpenter, Erskine trio. But it’s unlikely that these West Coast-based guys (including Carpenter, who died at a far too early age in June) could have received the national (and East Coast) support to grab the award.
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Grammy Award: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: “Monday Night at the Village Vanguard”
“Appearing Nightly,” Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band
“Act Your Age,” Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band
“Symphonica,” Joe Lovano With WDR Big Band & Rundfunk Orchestra
“Blauklang,” Vince Mendoza
It’s a shame that Carla Bley’s wild-eyed group of players were overlooked. Yes, the Vanguard Orchestra is doing an impressive job of carrying the baton for straight ahead big band jazz. But it sure would have been nice for Carla’s envelope stretching work to receive the notice it deserves.
Best Latin Jazz Album
Grammy Award: Arturo O’Farrill &and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra: “Song for Chico”
Afro Bop Alliance,” Caribbean Jazz Project
“The Latin Side Of Wayne Shorter,” Conrad Herwig & The Latin Side Band
“Nouveau Latino,” Nestor Torres
“Marooned/Aislado,” Papo Vázquez The Mighty Pirates
No argument here, either. Arturo O’Farrill”s been doing an impressive job of keeping alive the memory of his father, the great jazz arranger/composer , Chico O’Farrill.
Best Traditional World Music Album
Grammy Award: Ladysmith Black Mambazo: “Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu,”
“Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey,” Debashish Bhattacharya
“The Mandé Variations,” Toumani Diabaté
“Dancing In The Light,” Lakshmi Shankar
The other entries didn’t stand much of a chance, given Ladysmith’s international visibility. But they’re a great ensemble, always worth hearing. Even though the most fascinating album musically was surely the remarkable slide guitar playing of Bhattacharya.
Best Contemporary World Music Album
Grammy Award: Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju & Giovanni Hidalgo: “Global Drum Project”
“Shake Away,” Lila Downs
“Banda Larga Cordel.” Gilberto Gil
“Rokku Mi Rokka (Give And Take),” Youssou N’Dour
“Live At The Nelson Mandela Theater,” Soweto Gospel Choir
Pretty hard to make a choice here. Given the range of possibilities and the genre of styles, it could have gone to any one of these fine acts. But the most intriguing, from my perspective, is the fascinating work being done by Downs, whose career has matured by leaps and bounds over the past few years.
A Few Other Interesting Awards:
Best New Age Album
Jack DeJohnette: “Peace Time”
Yes, it’s that Jack De Johnette, bringing the same thoughtful sensitivity to an atmospheric collection of New Age sounds that he does to his work with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock.
Best Album Notes
Francis Davis: “Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition”
As any jazz writer knows, “Kind of Blue” was a great project to work with, but give Francis Davis credit for writing about it with sensitivity, insight and knowledge.
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist
Nan Schwartz. “Here’s That Rainy Day” from Natalie Cole’s “Still Unforgettable.”
Nan Schwartz has been crafting superb arrangements, making singers and instrumentalists sound their best, for years. This is a much-deserved acknowledgment of her impressive skills.