Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grammy Nominees, My Nominees: And the “Best” Keep Coming…




© Andrea Canter

The CDs keep coming. I’ve heard a good binful of marvelous recordings released in 2010. Yet hardly any are in the running for a Grammy. Neither are the way-too-many promising titles (some already in the 4-5 star category in published reviews) that I really plan to listen to in coming weeks. That pile is much more intimidating. I mean, I have yet to listen to what I know will be outstanding efforts from Matt Wilson, Chris Lightcap, Randy Weston, Bill Frisell, Jane Monheit, Michael Formanek… Everyday, something new comes into my mail box that intrigues, and terrifies me. When will I listen to this one? What if it’s the very best of the year?

So I am thus intimated by the Grammy nominees for jazz recordings, because most are not familiar (yet) –Positootly by John Beasley, New Song and Dance from the Clayton Brothers, Infernal Machines from Darcy James Argue, When Lights Are Low from Denise Donatelli (with a second nomination for arranger Geoffrey Keezer), and (how did I miss it?) Eleanora Fagan: To Billie With Love From Dee Dee (Bridgewater)?

On the other hand, how did they miss my faves so far? A best of the year list without Jason Moran’s Ten? Celebrating a decade leading his Bandwagon Trio with Tauras Mateen and Nasheet Waits, some of Moran’s most engaging blues, free improvisation and oddball splicing of conversations into the music appear on Ten. The more I hear Moran, the more I hear some common ground with Craig Taborn on the “out” side, Jarrett on the “in” side. Not a bad place to be. And speaking of Moran, what about Charles Lloyd’s Mirror with Moran, Reuben Rodgers and Eric Harland? The second release of his “new quartet,” no one can make the saxophone (flute, taragato, whatever) more hymnal, more sacred, than Lloyd. And oh yes, again Moran as part of Paul Motian’s Lost in a Dream (with Chris Potter), a splendid hour of Motian compositions interpreted by a cross-generational band that coheres as if a tight family unit.

And there are indeed a good group of pianists among the Grammy nominees, with Alan Broadbent, Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones, Danilo Perez and Keith Jarrett among the chosen. And I can hardly argue with the inclusion of Jarrett (for his solo on "Body and Soul, "on his duo Jasmine with Charlie Haden). But it’s hard to zero in on one solo or even just on Jarrett, For this is a gilded set of music, so beautifully delivered via the simplicity of duet and the timeless artistry of the collaborators. Jarrett and Haden could be two singers, two pianists, two horns, two bassists—they are two melodic voices that transcend specific instruments. As for Perez, Providencia seems to be his most adventurous, satisfying outing to date, and one that fortells projects to unify the diverse elements of modern music.

But what about Fred Hersch’s amazing trio release, Whirl? In light of his near-death, horrific round of medical crises in 2009, how did he sum all this energy, this melodic exploration, this sensitive interplay with cohorts John Hebert and Eric McPherson? And in the realm of sheer elegance and imagination, how can one pass by Anat Fort’s As If , or Frank Kimbrough’s Rumors, or Amina Figarova's Sketches, or solo recordings from Hiromi (Place to Be), Jessica Williams (Touch), Vijay Iyer (Solo) or Andy Milne (Dreams and False Alarms)? And for more swing, more flourish, did anything top Cyrus Chestnut’s trio chestnut, Journeys? And what about Geri Allen? Not only did she release her first solo recording (Flying Toward the Sound), she released yet another glorious trio +1 –Kenny Davis and Kassa Overall joined by tap dancer Maurice Chestnut (Timelines Live)-- four voices speaking one language, musical freedom fighters led into the stratosphere by a truly fearless creator.

I’m all for celebrating the feats of veterans who could just as easily lay back and rest on the accolades they have accumulated. But not James Moody. This Grammy nominee followed up his acclaimed 4A with, what else, 4B, a monster quartet outing with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Lewis Nash. Each musician shines although perhaps none more than the leader, whose tone throughout is impeccably clean and majestic . But beyond veterans, every year we are struck by the finesse, the power, the personal voice of rising stars, and my nod this year has to go to Tia Fuller’s Decisive Steps. Newly graduated from Beyonce’s all-girl band tours, saxophonist Fuller also found a place for guest tapdancer Maurice Chestnut, who himself deserves a Grammy nomination for inventive percussion. I’ve seen Fuller in club and festival contexts a few times in the past year or so, and much of that energy and hard bop heart is evident on the recording.

What about the on-the-edge-of-rock Turtle Island Quartet and their Jimi Hendrix homage, Have You Ever Been…? You just have to enjoy music with broad harmonies, interesting rhythms, playful one minute and celestial the next, especially when the musicians outwardly suggest a program of Schubert or Brahms. In a somewhat similar vein, happy to see Matt Haimovitz’s Meeting of the Spirits with his polyphonic, many-cello ensemble in the “classical crossover” category.

I agree with the Grammy’s nomination of Lorraine Feather’s Ages, an album covering uncommon covers and clever originals, as Feather readily conveys the range of emotions expressed or implied in her own lyrics, and to brings us into the conversation as if we belong there. But wait a minute, where’s Norma Winstone’s Stories Yet to Tell? Nearing 70, her instrument remains supple, maintaining the intonation and elasticity that allow her to take her own words, or no words at all, to simultaneously evoke distant shores, ancient times, and modern foibles. With bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing and pianist Glauco Venier, her trio transcends the dichotomy of voice versus instrument – for her there is no difference. Not as different from Winstone as he may first seem, hometown-boy-makes-good singer Jose James released a gem in For All We Know, a duet with extremely talented pianist Jef Neve. James is as comfortable with Gershwin and Ellington as with Coltrane and beyond, able to assimilate past and future in a single phrase.

My list goes on. As do the piles of recordings I have yet to open. And I just heard the mail carrier on the porch. Help!

Photos: Just a few favorites of the year, Jose James, Jason Moran, Lorraine Feather. (James, Moran photos by Andrea Canter)