2016 Grammys – Instrumental Jazz

As I write, the Grammy results are not all in yet, but winners in a number of jazz categories have been announced. It’s great to know the musical form is still going strong.

Thrilled to report that Snarky Puppy won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for “Sylva”. I wrote about the band a bit over a year ago, a few months before the April release of “Sylva”. For this album the group teamed up with Holland’s Metropole Orkest. Enjoy this video performance of the album’s first three tracks. It’s 15 minutes long, but well worth it.

A couple of weeks ago you read about young Joey Alexander, who was nominated for two Grammy awards. Well, he didn’t win either, but no shame in that when we look at the winners (and since he’s just 12, Joey will have plenty more chances).

Bassist Christian McBride won Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “Cherokee” from “Live at the Village Vanguard”. It’s hard to find someone in the world of jazz whom McBride hasn’t played with over the years, from Wynton Marsalis to Chick Corea to Herbie Hancock. And he’s played with the likes of Paul McCartney, James Brown and The Roots as well. There is plenty of great soloing by all three musicians on this track by the Christian McBride Trio, but that is some fine base work.

In the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album, young Joey was bested by legendary guitarist John Schofield for his latest release, “Past Present”. Schofield’s jazz resume may be even more amazing than McBride’s, having played with George Duke, Charles Mingus, and Gary Burton, before a long stint with Miles Davis.  For “Past Present” he teams up with saxophonist Joe Lovano, a bandmate from the 80’s.  Here’s “Get Proud”.

David Bowie’s Last Shape Shift

David Bowie’s prolific and inventive recording career began over 50 years ago, and he achieved fame early on with the release of “Space Oddity” in 1969 (see our post from 2013).  Over the decades he was called a “shape shifter” for surprising us regularly with changes in look and musical style.  It is a bittersweet final chapter to his story that he passed away on the day he released “Blackstar”, with its full serving of new musical direction.  We won’t have the opportunity to hear Bowie expand and expound upon this new direction in interviews or performances, so let’s make sure to do a little examination of his last work on our own.

Blackstar was recorded with the backing of jazz musicians saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner.  Bassist Tim Lefebvre was on hand as well.  Bowie met McCaslin in 2014, and McCaslin, Monder and Guiliana played in the orchestra on Bowie’s 2014 single “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”.  The track is in a straighter jazz vein than the more eclectic sounds the group created on “Blackstar”.

The songs from “Blackstar” getting the most early attention are its nearly 10-minute title track and “Lazarus”. Both are the subjects of elaborate videos, the latter taking on a special meaning in light of Bowie’s passing.  But the videos can frankly be a distraction from hearing the music, so let’s start with “Dollar Days” which has no video – but close your eyes for good measure.

Now that you’ve practiced listening with closed eyes, listen to “Lazarus” once that way, then take the last look at one of Rock and Roll’s geniuses he apparently intended us to take.

Suggestions From All Around – Snarky Puppy, The Lone Bellow and Polaris Rose

To get 2015 off on the right foot, some great suggestions have floated in from friends and other bloggers.  But before we get started, happy to say that two of the artists we featured when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees were announced made it through (see the post)!

First up is Snarky Puppy.  Thanks, Ben!  This Brooklyn based group of jazz fusion musicians, a self described “quasi-collective”, migrated from the University of North Texas .  Their website lists a dozen members, but the video below makes you wonder if that number grows on some tracks.  The video for “What About Me?” is from the live performance set-up they used to record their latest CD “We Like It Here”.  If you find the beginning of the guitar solo at 3:00 a bit ethereal for your tastes, hang in there till things pick up at about 3:45.  And if you want to hear one of the other guitarists strut his stuff, check out “Jambone”.

Meanwhile, on another street in Brooklyn we find the alt-country trio The Lone Bellow.  Thanks Dennis and Maureen! They are about to release their second album, “Then Came the Morning”, and will  apparently be on Jimmy Kimmel tomorrow night to play “Cold As It Is” from that album.  Hear that track before everybody else, and also try out the album’s title track. No shortage of great backing musicians in the Big Apple!

Last but not least is the duo Polaris Rose from Los Angeles.  They were mentioned on the excellent blog “The Delete Bin”.  Thanks, Rob!  No matter how cold a winter you’re dealing with, these harmonies and lush guitar tones will make you feel like you’re in the California warmth of the videos.  “Perfect View” is from their new album “Telescopes”, and “Chartreuse” is from their debut EP “The Moon & Its Secrets”.

 

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A Jazzy Detour – Tauk, Fletch’s Brew, and Thievery Corporation

Time for an overdue dip in the modern jazz pool.

Tauk is a four-piece, instrumental fusion band from Oyster Bay, Long Island (thanks for the heads up, Charlie!).  Three of the band’s four members began playing together in middle school and reunited after college. “Friction” is the first track from their new album “Collisions” (that guitar tone is very Walter Becker), and if you want an introduction to their earlier album, “Homunculus”,  try out “In the Basement of the Alamo”.

Fletch’s Brew is a U.K. band built around drummer Mark Fletcher, and it includes a crew of seasoned musicians who have played with pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of from Dizzy Gillespie to Diana Ross, and from Chrissie Hynde to Placido Domingo!  Despite all that history they are thoroughly modern, having raised money to record their new album “39 & 47” on KickStarter.  Here is the band playing their progressive version of the jazz standard “Invitation”.

Thievery Corporation is the duo of Eric Hilton and Rob Garza, who have been turning out incredible records and live shows that mix a broad range of musical styles since they teamed up in 1995 in Washington, D.C. Their shared love of Brazilian Bossa Nova apparently was part of what drew them together as artists, but “Saudade” is their first album entirely dedicated to that genre. Here are “Firelight” and “Bateau Rouge” featuring long-time vocal collaborator Lou Lou Ghelichkhani.

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The Kennedy Center Honors – 2038

2013 Kennedy Center Honors were presented to music legends Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana and Billy Joel last night in Washington, D.C.   The Awards are in their 36th year and have done a pretty good job of honoring artists of truly monumental lifetime achievements.  In the Awards’ early years the Kennedy Center recognized Ella, Sinatra, and Count Basie and in more recent years Dylan, Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Brubeck, McCartney, Brian Wilson, and James Brown.

So, who might they be honoring 25 years from now?  What musical artists are on a trajectory to possibly stand in that company?  Looking at this year’s awardees who range in age from their mid-60’s to mid-70’s and who made their first musical marks 40 to 50 years ago, we need to think of artists currently between their mid-30’s and mid-40’s who have already been at it for 15 years or more.  Being a bit parochial and limiting the possibilities to musicians featured on this blog, here are our predictions for the 2038 Kennedy Center Honors.

Alison Krauss should definitely be there.  She’ll be 67 by then, and we hope will still have her pure, angelic voice.  She might not need to make one more recording to be viewed as one of the best and most influential artists of her time. She’s already won 27 Grammy Awards and countless country music awards. Here’s a cover of a pop tune from the Queen of Bluegrass.

Dave Grohl will be 69, bringing a legacy that already includes Nirvana, the Foo Fighters, drummer of choice for pretty much everyone, and documentary filmmaker. Here’s Dave practicing for 2038 by making nice at the White House. Things start to rock at about 3:00.

Jack White will be a 63-year old in 2038.  In addition to his recent solo work, he’s led The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather, but his greatest musical legacy may be the work he’s doing at his Third Man Records – preserving American roots music and developing new artists.  White has produced albums for country icon Loretta Lynn, rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson, and rock and roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis. Here’s another side of Jack, performing a duet with Alicia Keys of the theme song he wrote for the 2008 Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”.

In case you want to hang around for a few more minutes and sample the early works of the honorees of 2013, here are the first songs that made Herbie, Carlos and Billy famous. And, oh yeah, please feel free to comment with your picks for the 2038 Kennedy Center Honors.