BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM
An eclectic group in this category, this year. It includes two past winners, who must be considered the favorites. There is also a veteran performer, a member of a legendary musical family, who is still seeking his first Grammy in a career that has spanned over half a century.
The nominees are:
MY MOOD IS YOU
Truth be told, I am rooting like mad for Freddy Cole to win this Grammy. But realistically, I don’t think that it will happen. Though he has done some very fine work over his 55-year career as a recording artist, he has, like it or not, always been in the massive shadow of his legendary older brother. At 87, this is his fourth Grammy nomination, all of them since 2000. Why don’t I think he will win, even though he is clearly a sentimental favorite? In the jazz categories, Grammy has never been that sentimental, unless you are a virtual household name (Miles; Herbie; Chick; Rollins, etc.). And Mr. Cole is undeservedly still relatively obscure, outside of the jazz world. A lot of the voters are not going to know him. Musically, My Mood is You is very good but not great. At this point, the slight gravel in his baritone voice (which in his early days, was eerily like his brother’s), has become more pronounced. He will now often talk his way around phrases that he used to glide through. Still, he gives every young jazz and pop singer a master class in phrasing and interpretation, especially on the ballads. The poignant, “I’ll Always Leave the Door a Little Open”, ranks among the top 10 recorded performances, ever. Grammy, I want you to prove me wrong and give this award to Freddy Cole.
Kurt Elling has been nominated for 13 Grammys, winning in this category, in 2009, for his excellent Hartman/Coltrane tribute album. I admired his work on The Questions, an album with a reflective, pop-rock undertone, on which he reimagines tunes by Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Jaco Pastorius, among others. There is impressive solo work by Branford Marsalis, who also co-produced and by the rising trumpet star, Marquis Hill. Again, this was an album, that personally, I admired but didn’t love. It is very well played and earnestly delivered, but I missed Elling’s casual swing and the wry humor that he brings to most of his work. This was by design and an artist of his stature is more than entitled to move outside of the box, when he chooses. Given his past win and his strong name recognition, he has solid chance of picking up Grammy number two on Sunday. I can see only one nominee beating him out.
THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE
Kate McGarry With Keith Ganz & Gary Versace
This Kate McGarry’s second Grammy nomination. The first was ten years ago, in this same category. I’ve been a fan of Ms. McGarry and her easy going jazz/coffeehouse sound, since reviewing her 2007 album, The Target for Jazz Inside Magazine. This album, which was recorded with the backing of Keith Ganz on guitar/bass and Gary Versace on organ/accordion is beautifully intimate, as is quite appropriate on a work that deals with love, in all of its phases and forms. There is nothing sappy about the love songs here; this is a bright and fun work. Will it win a Grammy? Probably not. Even in the jazz world, indie projects rarely win the trophy, even if they are nominated, which is very unfortunate. So I absolutely suggest that you add this project to your collection but don’t expect to see them picking up the award.
IF YOU REALLY WANT
Raul Midón With the Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza
On this album, his second in a row to be nominated, Raul Midón steps fully into the pop-jazz territory that was owned by the late Al Jarreau, for the last 25 years of his illustrious career. He sounds like Jarreau, phrases like him and now, he has even recorded an album with Metropole Orkest, the Dutch powerhouse aggregation, that backed Jarreau on his last Grammy winning album, in 2012. Mr. Midón and this band were made for each other. Their big brassy sound wraps around his joyous tenor, like a glove. With a little more promotional push, this album will be a huge seller in the contemporary jazz market. It is filled with infectious hooks, punchy brass and Midón’s soaring vocals and “Al Con Salsa” scatting. However, in spite of all of that, I think Raul will go home empty handed, for the second year in a row. There is too much strong and better known competition. But this cat is going to hit paydirt soon, trust and believe.
Cécile McLorin Salvant
The defending champ in this category. Every one of her major label releases has been nominated for this award and the last two of them (For One to Love and Dreams and Daggers), have gone home winners. She is one of the most popular traditional jazz singers on the scene today, she has strong name recognition, she is a prodigiously gifted vocalist and you know what else? This album is damn good. For the most part, it’s just Ms. McLorin Salvant and the piano of Sullivan Fortner, having glorious conversations. Some were recorded in the studio and some in jazz’s cathedral; the Village Vanguard. She covers everyone, from Stevie Wonder to Bessie Smith to Leonard Bernstein and beyond. But stay until the end, because McLorin Salvant and Fortner are joined by the marvelous Melissa Aldana, on tenor saxophone, for a stunning version of Jimmy Rowles’ jazz classic “The Peacocks”. Yeah. If she doesn’t make it 3 out of 4, it will be a pretty big upset.
The comments and unscientific predictions:
Should have been nominated (and I feel very strongly about it): The Genius of Eddie Jefferson – Alan Harris; Some of That Sunshine – Karrin Allyson; Unbroken – Tiffany Austin
Should Win: Cécile McLorin Salvant
Will Win: Cécile McLorin Salvant
I Will Be Thrilled if They Do Win: Freddy Cole