The 49th Annual GRAMMY Awards Roundup: Jazz Field
The GRAMMY Awards honor recordings in 108 categories across 31 fields, from rap to classical. To help readers get a better sense of the nominees and the wealth of recordings they’ve created over the past year, GRAMMY.com has prepared these field Roundups, which give quick details on the nominees in an easy-to-read format.
From Bach to Martin Denny, from banjo to drum machine, most anything goes among the nominees for BEST CONTEMPORARY JAZZ ALBUM. Banjo player Béla Fleck & The Flecktones' The Hidden Land reflects a multi-cultural world where Bach snuggles up to bluegrass and funk mingles with raga, all held together by intricate instrumental interplay. Long a fixture on the Manhattan scene, Groove Collective leavens funk with Latin percussion and adds an icing of horns blown by the group's trumpeter Fabio Morgera and guest trombonist Fred Wesley on People People Music Music. Christian Scott's Rewind That displays well-developed trumpet technique with phrases that can be economical or a flurry of notes, a tone ranging from wispy to fat as he plays over a seductive groove — ably assisted by his band’s guitarist Matt Stevens and his uncle, saxist Donald Harrison. Light the tiki lamps and let the limbo contest begin: For Sexotica, Sex Mob laid down basic horn and rhythm tracks to be remixed by the production duo Good and Evil (Danny Blume and Christian Castagno) for a distinctly contemporary tribute to '50s lounge music legend Martin Denny. On Who Let The Cats Out?, guitarist Mike Stern demonstrates equal facility at fleet-fingered linear runs, low-down funk, eerie blues, slamming rock crescendos and gentle atmospheric finger-play. The album features guests including trumpeter Roy Hargrove and bassists Me'Shell NdegéOcello and Victor Wooten.
Hip chicks with a mellow side lead the nominations for BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM. For classic cool, Karrin Allyson's Footprints starts with standards by Horace Silver, Hank Mobley and Duke Jordan; adds lyrics, respectively, by Jon Hendrix, Chris Caswell and Allyson; and throws in a couple tunes by the late Oscar Brown Jr. Italian vocalist Roberta Gambarini sings jazz as a second language. Her skillful scatting is evinced on Easy To Love with a program of standards, and two lyrics by Jon Hendricks, with a cameo by saxophonist James Moody. It takes a real musician to scat sing as Nancy King does on "There's A Small Hotel" and "I Fall In Love Too Easily" from Live At Jazz Standard With Fred Hersch. Surreptitiously recorded off the board by Hersch, King's vocal colors, pitch-perfect harmonic sense and actor’s interpretation of lyrics are on full display. How does Diana Krall swing? Let us count the ways. On From This Moment On she glides over the stomping Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra on "It Could Happen To You"; sashays through "Isn't This A Lovely Day"; tiptoes across "How Insensitive"; and skips along on "Exactly Like You." Nancy Wilson's Turned To Blue plays like a one-woman stage show — a wise woman reflecting on life in all its variety. The title track is taken from a poem by Maya Angelou.
Blazing or haunting, percussive or melodic, it takes all kinds to make up the nominations for BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL SOLO. In the jazz world where tenor saxophonists are given outsized appellations like "giant," judging from Michael Brecker's solo on the title track from Some Skunk Funk, it's time to title him "titan." Sadly, the title is given posthumously: Brecker died of leukemia on Jan. 13. It takes couples with fleet feet to keep up with clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera's animated solos on "Paq Man," heard on Hilario Duran And His Latin Jazz Big Band's From The Heart. Twenty-two year-old pianist Taylor Eigsti takes his hard-swinging solo on a song nearly twice as old as he — "Freedom Jazz Dance" from Lucky To Be Me. He doesn't stumble off the breakneck tempo set by drummer Billy Kilson and bassist James Jenus. At age 81, Roy Haynes shows great musicality and compositional sense — not to mention endurance — all around his kit, from cymbals to bass drum, on "Hippidy Hop (Drum Solo)" from Whereas, a live recording in St. Paul, Minn. Like old friends who set up each other's punch lines, on Braggtown, the Branford Marsalis Quartet members hear where the music is going without having it spelled out. A prime example is leader Branford Marsalis' soprano sax solo on "Hope," a duet with its composer/pianist Joey Calderazzo.
For fans, soloing may be the core of jazz artistry, but for the true essence of jazz musicians often cite the sort of interplay exhibited by nominees for BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM. His first release in nine years, the live Sound Grammar finds Ornette Coleman leading a quartet featuring two basses, one exclusively arco and the other pizzicato, presenting melodies that seem simultaneously distant in time and timelessly familiar. Chick Corea combined his current engagement with North African and Iberian music with his continuing interest in the sci-fi novels of L. Ron Hubbard to create The Ultimate Adventure, a tone poem reminiscent of his groundbreaking fusion bands of the '70s. Trio Beyond — Saudades is drummer Jack DeJohnette, organist Larry Goldings and guitarist John Scofield's tribute to the Tony Williams' band Lifetime with guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young. On this two-disc live set, Trio Beyond expands on the freely swinging rhythmic thrust and blazing instrumental interplay that were hallmarks of Williams' group. Sonny, Please, Sonny Rollins' first studio recording in five years, demonstrates the full range of the legendary tenor player's range. Whether it's his own tunes — the boppin' "Nishi" and the hip-swaying swing of "Remembering Tommy," the subtly Caribbean rhythms of "Park Palace Parade" or an obscure Noel Coward ballad, "Someday I'll Find You" — Rollins finds countless ways to twist and turn their melodies. Kenny Garrett's Beyond The Wall recasts traditional Chinese melodies as improvisational jazz with the help of native instruments and a Tibetan choir.
Nominees for BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM demonstrate how, if you unravel the tapestry of the modern jazz orchestra, most of the threads wind back to Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. Some would say the best jazz compositions are written with specific soloists in mind. The music on Up From The Skies — Music Of John McNeely features tracks written by McNeely, a longtime "staff" arranger for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. The album highlights drummer John Riley ("Life Of Riley"), low horns of baritone saxist Gary Smulyan and trombonist John Mosca ("Almost Always"), saxophonist Billy Drewes ("Don't Even Ask"), and flugelhornist Greg Gisbert and alto saxophonist Dick Oatts ("Hardly Ever"). Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombonist and a founding member of the original Vanguard orchestra, together with 15 horns from the New Art Orchestra, which he also helped found, discovered nearly limitless arrays of tone colors and harmonic voices for the arrangements of Spirit Music. The Basie band made the charts of every singer they worked with sound better, and the WDR Big Band Köln does the same for the arrangements of the jazz world's leading instrumentalists. Some Skunk Funk, a live date recorded in Germany, shows the band's horns ace Vince Mendoza's rearrangements of music by brothers Randy and Michael Brecker, who played in the Vanguard big band when they first moved to New York City. The album also features Jim Beard, Will Lee, Peter Erskine and Marcio Doctor. On Streams Of Expression, the Joe Lovano Ensemble revisits the Third Stream with edgy arrangements that combine classical and jazz techniques for the five-part title suite and pays tribute to Miles Davis with Gunther Schuller's arrangement of three tunes from the groundbreaking Birth Of The Cool. By doubling the size of the bands that Mingus himself led, the Mingus Big Band pulls into even sharper focuses the jump cuts and montages, the close-ups and pans that he used to combine the many facets of American music — blues, bop, ballads and even bird calls — on Live In Tokyo At The Blue Note.
Jazz has always called for at least a dab of hot sauce, but the nominees for BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM show how Latin jazz also allows for a full panoply of jazz styles. Pianist Edsel Gomez's arrangements blend fiery salsa and whispery bossa nova with blues, bop and edgy modern sounds. With five of the scene's leading jazz hornmen — Don Byron, David Sanchez and Miguel Zenón — Gomez's Cubist Music delivers a new take on an old recipe. A 20-year veteran of Eddie Palmieri's band, trumpeter Brian Lynch has observed firsthand how to write charts that feature a wide range of jazz styles while the rhythm section keeps it danceable. A tribute to Palmieri, the Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project's Simpático features several of this year's GRAMMY nominees as well as alto saxist Phil Woods and trombonist Conrad Herwig. With its mix of downtown musicians, including a violinist and a cellist, and driving clave rhythms, drummer Dafnis Prieto's Absolute Quintet is definitely not your padre's salsa record. Alto saxist Henry Threadgill adds to the disc's haunting charm. Viva — from Diego Urcola, Edward Simon, Avishai Cohen, Antonio Sanchez and Pernell Saturnino — features the music of Argentina as well as the hard bop and blues of the United States accented with Latin percussion and played by an all-star cast. Codes, the debut of drummer Ignacio Berroa as a leader, recasts Latin numbers as languid jazz ballads and jazz standards by Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Dizzy Gillespie as Latin tunes, with a haunting rendition of Jobim's "Inútil Paissagem."