Jazz at the Grammys; and props to Lifetime Achievement winner Clark Terry

The Grammy Awards — particularly as demonstrated by its biggest categories — remains the music industry’s overblown high-school prom, a chance for the year’s most popular and/or most attractive rock, dance, hip-hop and country artists to toast each other’s success on the charts and in the media spotlight.

Last night’s ceremony, in that respect, was mostly the same: Does anyone believe that, 20 years from now, anyone will be singing the songs of, or caring much about the likes of Lady Gaga, who opened with a two-piano extravaganza with Sir Elton John (his earliest songs have become classics), or Pink, who did a skin-baring Cirque du Soleil-style act?

Jazz, as usual, got short shrift (yes, there was Herbie Hancock’s big win last year, but that was a fluke).

Lifetime achievement winner Clark Terry (right), the great and gracious trumpeter, and good-humored “mumble”/scat singer, got onstage recognition from director Quentin Tarantino (huh?) and the camera caught Terry, 89, in the audience. Then it was on to a really annoying, profanity-laced performance by Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and drummer Travis  Barker. No, thanks.

Best musical moment: Jeff Beck‘s performance of “How High the Moon,” with singer Imelda May, in a too-short salute to Les Paul, introduced by actor Jeff Bridges (huh?) Beck played a sunburst Les Paul guitar for the occasion.

This year’s jazz nominees, for the most part, were musically solid. Several of the recordings that appeared on my Top 10 list — discs by singer Roberta Gambarini, pianist Allen Toussaint, and bassist John Patitucci — grabbed nominations, but not wins.

Nice to see New Orleans artists take home trophies in two categories — trumpeter Terence Blanchard for best improvised jazz solo, and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield‘s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for best large jazz ensemble album — although it’s a bit of a shock that the latter category didn’t include nominations for first-rate recordings by Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

The Jazz Surge’s CD, The Comet’s Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker, did get attention in the category of best instrumental arrangement. Talented veteran arranger Bill Cunliffe won, for “West Side Story Medley” from the Resonance Big Band’s tribute to Oscar Peterson. Note: Mendoza was nominated twice in this category, so that may have hurt his chances for a win.

And it ought to be noted that neither acclaimed pianist Vijay Iyer, nor his trio’s Historicity, which topped this year’s Village Voice Jazz Critic Poll (I voted), were to be found among the nominees. UPDATE: Vijay let me know that Historicity “was released two weeks too late to qualify for the awards.” Here’s hoping that NARAS will honor the CD next year.

Kurt Elling won in the jazz vocal category for another impressive recording, but I wonder if the superb discs by Robert Gambarini (my pick for ’09’s best jazz vocal CD) and Tierney Sutton resulted in a vote split leading to the Elling win.

It was satisfying to see several veterans pick up wins, including late Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul, for the final CD from his Zawinul Syndicate band, and pianist Chick Corea and guitarist John McLaughlin, for a live recording from their Five Peace Band.

Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark, picked up another Album Notes Grammy, his eighth, for his contributions to The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946).

Finally, how many father-and-son recordings have won Grammy awards? In the Latin jazz category, the great Cuban-born pianist Bebo Valdes and his son, pianist Chucho Valdes, won for Juntos Para Siempre.

The jazz winners and nominees….

Best Contemporary Jazz Album

*Winner: 75 Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

[Heads Up International]

Urbanus Stefon Harris & Blackout [Concord Jazz]

Sounding Point Julian Lage [Emarcy/Decca]

At World’s Edge Philippe Saisse [E1 Music]

Big Neighborhood Mike Stern [Heads Up International]

———-

Best Jazz Vocal Album

*Winner: Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman Kurt Elling [Concord Jazz]

No Regrets Randy Crawford (& Joe Sample) [PRA Records]

So In Love Roberta Gambarini [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

Tide Luciana Souza [Verve]

Desire Tierney Sutton (Band) [Telarc Jazz]

———-

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

*Winner: Dancin’ 4 Chicken Terence Blanchard, soloist Track from: Watts (Jeff “Tain” Watts) [Dark Key Music]

All Of You Gerald Clayton, soloist Track from: Two-Shade [ArtistShare]

Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey Roy Hargrove, soloist Track from: Emergence [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

On Green Dolphin Street Martial Solal, soloist Track from: Live At The Village Vanguard [CamJazz]

Villa Palmeras Miguel Zenón, soloist Track from: Esta Plena [Marsalis Music]

———-

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group

*Winner: Five Peace Band – Live Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band [Concord Records]

Quartet Live Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez [Concord Jazz]

Brother To Brother Clayton Brothers [ArtistShare]

Remembrance John Patitucci Trio [Concord Jazz]

The Bright Mississippi Allen Toussaint [Nonesuch]

———-

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

*Winner: Book One New Orleans Jazz Orchestra [World Village]

Legendary Bob Florence Limited Edition [MAMA Records]

Eternal Interlude John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble [Sunnyside]

Fun Time Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band [Hänssler Classic]

Lab 2009 University Of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band [North Texas Jazz]

———-

Best Latin Jazz Album

*Winner: Juntos Para Siempre Bebo Valdés And Chucho Valdés [Sony Music/Calle 54]

Things I Wanted To Do Chembo Corniel [Chemboro Records]

Áurea Geoffrey Keezer [ArtistShare]

Brazilliance X 4 Claudio Roditi [Resonance Records]

Esta Plena Miguel Zenón [Marsalis Music]

Jazz Bassists on Parade: David Finck, Ben Wolfe, Anne Mette Iversen, Bill Moring

Jazz sessions led by bassists long ago stopped being the exception to the rule.

Notable bass-playing sidemen — from Ron Carter and Dave Holland (Miles Davis) to Charlie Haden (Ornette Coleman), from Christian McBride to practically every four-string anchor who’s backed Chick Corea, including Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci and Avishai Cohen — successfully graduated from character actor to lead roles, applying distinctive, readily recognized tonal conceptions and compositional approaches to their own projects and tours.

Last year was no exception, with a flood of fine bass-led CDs, including the eclectic Esperanza (Heads Up), a mix of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, pop and funk from rising star Esperanza Spalding, also an affecting singer; Richard Bona‘s rambunctious, live Bona Makes You Sweat (Decca); Charlie Haden‘s Americana-rooted  Rambling Boy (Decca); and  Todd Coolman‘s Perfect Strangers (ArtistShare), an unusual project incorporating tunes penned by little-known composers (see my earlier post).

Also notable were a pair of ambitious sets of compositions and arrangements — Windy City musician Larry Gray’s 1,2,3 (Chicago Sessions), a trio recording with guitarist John Moulder and drummer Charles Heath, and Roberto Occhipinti‘s jazz/Latin/Brazilian/classical project Yemaya (ALMA).

I reviewed several of the above for major music publications.

Herewith, a quartet of other bass-led CDs deserving of greater attention:

david-finck1The David Finck Quartet, Future Day (Soundbrush) — Finck, a reliably supportive presence on sessions by Latin and Brazilian jazz artists, offers a singing tone and typically sturdy rhythm work on this top-shelf collaboration with vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe La Barbera.

The swing, on tunes like “Four Flags,” with aggressive solo turns by guests Jeremy Pelt, on trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, on tenor sax, is clean and hard driving. Locke, throughout, is a wonder – casually virtuosic and, on the gorgeous “For All We Know” and elsewhere, he turns in improvisations marked by clever twists and unexpected phrasings.

The arrangements, too, offer pleasant surprises, including a 5/4 version of “Nature Boy” (a redesign suggested by La Barbera);  a haunting take on Wayne Shorter’s “Black Eyes”; and the closing “Firm Roots,” by Cedar Walton, with more bracing improvisations  by Finck and La Barbera.

(Finck’s next appearances: April 25, San Raphael , California with the Manhattan Transfer; April 26, Denver, with the Manhattan Transfer; May 16, Washington DC with Sheila Jordan; May 22, Cambridge, Mass with Steve Kuhn Trio; May 29-June 1, Blue Note New York with John Faddis)

ben-wolfeBen Wolfe, No Strangers Here (MaxJazz) — Wolfe, best known as an eminently reliable, steady-beat wood chopper for the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis, mixes and matches his quartet (tenor and saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Luis Perdomo, drummer Greg Hutchinson) with a string quartet and several guests on a set of dynamic originals.

The strings blend gorgeously with the band on the vintage-sounding, slow-swimming title track (and elsewhere), and Branford Marsalis raises the artistry of the proceedings even higher, playing soprano on the strolling “Milo” and tenor on “The Filth,” a dirty, twisting blues. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford also makes impressive guest shots, on the start-stop contours of opener “The Minnick Rule” and the aptly titled closer “Groovy Medium.”

anne-metteAnne Mette Iversen: AMI Quartet with 4Corners, Best of the West/AMI Quartet, Many Places (BJU Records) — Band meets string quartet, too, on Best of the West, a heady jazz-meets-classical outing led by Danish-born NYC bassist Anne Mette Iversen. New York/New Orleans tenor saxophonist John Ellis turns in a wonderfully buoyant conversation with the rhythm section and strings on the opening “North” and the searching “North West”; and Iversen’s sensitive work as an improviser is showcased on “North East.”Synchronicity is the byword for this set of intense, often intensely beautiful music.

Also included in this two-disc release is Many Places, which has the same quartet, absent of the strings, sounding considerably more loose and relaxed, and turning even more creative. The bright, swinging “Out the Atlantic” and the delicate “The Square in Ravello” are just two of many gems composed by the leader.

billmoringBill Moring & Way Out East, Spaces in Time (Owl) — The two-horn line of trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist Tim Armacost frontloads Moring’s second CD with plenty of grit and heft, starting with funky opener “Sweat,” penned by Walrath.

Moring shows off his talents as a composer on the ballad-to-Latin piece, “Mary Lynn,” which opens with bowed bass and has Walrath turning in a muted solo; the pensive ballad “A Space in Time,” glued together, like other tunes, by Steve Allee’s electric keys work; and the chunky “iHop,” cued open with a grinding bass line and drummer Steve Johns’ chunky backbeat. The quintet drives furiously on Ornette Coleman’s “The Disguise.”