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My Thoughts on this Year’s Jazz Grammy Nominations

February 4, 2011 1 comment

Well, the Grammy Awards are just under 10 days away, and if you’re like me you’re quite underwhelmed with a bulk of the jazz nominations this year.  I’d argue that institutions like the Grammys (although the jazz awards are not aired on the broadcast – which I won’t be watching) have a canonizing effect (especially for the jazz lay person), just like the numerous Top 10 lists, record reviews, polls, etc., do.  I therefore don’t take the nominations that lightly.  So here are some thoughts on this year’s nominees in no particular order:

-Best solo:  this is a stupid category, no matter who wins, even if it’s my favorite player.  There were around 500 records listed on this year’s Village Voice poll, which I’m sure each contained at least a dozen, if not dozens of solos.  So trying to pick one solo out of those thousands and thousands of solos is just dumb.  And one of my ongoing interests is how do people decide what “best” means?  Apparently, based on what is nominated for “best solo” this year, it’s the best solos from players people who have heard of: Wynton Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, Hank Jones (I’m assuming the Grammy folks threw him a bone since he recently passed away, I call it the Downbeat reader’s poll effect, which I assume means Lee Konitz won’t make the DB Hall of Fame until he dies), and Herbie Hancock (can somebody else besides Hancock please win some Grammys?).  And Alan Broadbent was nominated (extra points if you know where he’s from).  Broadbent is a great player, but really, Alan Broadbent? His nomination is completely random, and not exactly the name his fellow nominees are.  To be fair, I’ve only heard Jarrett’s solo out of those nominated, which comes from his recent record with Charlie Haden.  But I’m not sure how it’s any better than the Mary Halvorson solo I’m listening to right now.  Or any other solo I’ll probably hear today.  So I will pay absolutely no attention to who wins this category.  (BTW, if Jon Irabagon doesn’t win, or even nominated, for his epic 78 solo on his new record Foxy, I will scratch my head in disbelief).

Best Large Ensemble Record: At least the Vince Mendoza/John Scofield/Metropole Orchestra record got nominated.  I don’t know what the Grammy counts as being a “large” ensemble, but the fact that Dave Holland’s Octet was nominated leads me to believe that any group with more than a two-horn front line counts as “large.”  So Holland’s (he’s yet another big name to get nominated) nomination takes away from other large ensemble records which deserved to be nominated.  Dan Gailey’s What Did You Dream? comes to mind, and I’ve heard that there was a killing Dave Douglas record with Jim McNeely and the Frankfurt Big Band out (Douglas puts out so many albums it’s hard to keep track of them).  Way to go Grammy committee for nominating an 8 piece for “large ensemble.”  Obviously not what I would have done.

-Best New Artist (all categories): this is a stupid category as well, not because there aren’t folks who put out great music, but the nominations usually show how not-hip the committee is.  For example, Esperanza Spalding is nominated this year – which is awesome, but considering she just put out her third record, she’s not exactly new, except for those people who don’t know much.  I hope she wins, although she probably won’t.

-Best Traditional Blues Record: Cyndi Lauper?  Really?  There weren’t some other folks who have spent their whole lives playing “traditional” blues who put out a good album?  To be fair, I saw Lauper at an in-store concert she played at the record store I worked at in Portland, and she is a great musician.  I also haven’t heard the record, so take my thoughts with a few grains of salt.  But just seeing her name among the nominees for best traditional blues record – that’s a mind bender right there.

And the nominating period….the nominating period is from September 1 to August 31.  So for this year’s awards it means albums from 9/1/09 through 8/31/10 are eligible.  That would explain why Darcy James Argue’s Infernal Machines and Vijay Iyer’s Historicity (ok, gotta give props to the Grammy folks for those two – pretty hip choices, and Iyer deserves to win) are both nominated, even though their records are over a year old.  So if you were wondering why seemingly not-that-recent albums are nominated, there you go.

So there you go, my thoughts on this year’s jazz Grammy nominations.  You might disagree, but hey, that’s why we talk about music.

Mary Halvorson’s New Record

February 4, 2011 1 comment

Hey everybody, just a quick shout out to let you know I just downloaded the new record from guitarist Mary Halvorson from Amazon for $5.34.  It’s called Electric Fruit and it features Peter Evans on trumpet and Weasel Walter on drums and percussion.  It’s more than worth the super cheap price (although I always prefer to own the actual album with the art and notes and all that, but sometimes price dictates what form I buy the record in). It’s awesome, crunchy, out there contemporary free jazz at it’s finest, and all three musicians are highly adept at listening to each other and adapting their ideas and direction at will.  They always seem to finish each others’ sentences (terrible cliche I know).  I’m giving Electric Fruit my first listen-to now, and I’m struck by how well Evans’ trumpet timbre and ideas match Halvorson’s.  And Walter gives a similar vibe on drums to folks like Paul Motian and Han Bennink: more emphasis on color and texture than on time and meter.   As my mom would say: “it’s train wreck music”; thus, it’s not for the faint of heart.  It’s a must have for all Halvorson fans (people who dislike her playing and say she has no technique will certainly hate this record), and like I keep saying: Halvorson rocks harder than Metallica ever did (anybody else feel like Metallica was super-fake, all fluff and no chicken, a simulacrum of hard rock, if you will?).  Electric Fruit is good stuff.

Um….it’s not their second record as a leader. Do your homework.

…haven’t written in a while, time to shake off the rust…..

When Esperanza Spalding’s third album as a leader dropped a few weeks back I read a ton of interviews, short reviews, album descriptions, etc. that said Chamber Music Society (hereafter CMS) was her “sophomore” album. 

BTW, I hate it when people describe someone’s second album as their “sophomore” record.  Ugh, can we please think of another word?  Oh, and the only other thing worse than that are the inevitable questions: “will this record be a sophomore slump?” Plain lazy. 

Anyways, seems like the writers who think CMS is Spalding’s second record are not doing their homework.  Cause it’s not her second record, it’s her third.  Apparently her first, Junjo, doesn’t exist.  But it does, cause I have it, and it’s killing.

And this isn’t the only other recent example.  In this week’s Helping Friendly (yo Phish phans) jazz email from NPR they are giving out free streaming of way-left-of-center guitarist Mary Halvorson’s so called “second” album as a leader, Saturn Sings, before it is released on October 5. 

I’m listening to it right now and it is slamming, and out, and crunchy, and soooo good, which means I’m gonna have to buy it, dammit.  Go here to listen to the record.

Once again, the writer, in this case Lars Gotrich, has forgotten, or never knew, about another previous Halvorson-led date besides the also “slamming, and out, and crunchy” Dragon’s Head.  Turns out there’s another Halvorson record on the oft-forgot hatOLOGY label called Cracklenob.  And another one called Calling All Portraits.  And another one she co-led with violinist Jessica Pavone: it’s called Thin Air.  And another one with Pavone called On and Off.

So jazz writers, and I guess this applies to music writers in general, please check your facts regarding, well…not just everything, but at least how many records a musician has put out.  Don’t just say it’s “their sophomore release” because you only know about one other record from them. 

And this doesn’t take any kind of miraculous knowledge about every artist you write about – because God knows I end up having to write about musicians I’ve never heard of before.  What it takes is an Amazon search, which assuming you have a decent internet connection, should take you approximately 10 seconds.

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