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THE 39TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS | Jazz

'High Life' Rises Above the Routine

February 27, 1997|DON HECKMAN

In a year dominated by conservative, predictable nominations, the academy membership came up with one real surprise in the jazz selections. Wayne Shorter's award for best contemporary jazz performance for "High Life" is a shock, if only because it's a mystery as to what it was doing in a category with Bob James, T.J. Kirk and Harvey Mason in the first place. True, it includes a smattering of funk rhythms and electronics, but the compositions are pure Shorter. Nevertheless, it's an excellent choice, and it's good to see the saxophonist get some well-deserved recognition for his talents.

Saxophonist Michael Brecker's two awards, for best jazz instrumental solo ("Cabin Fever") and best jazz instrumental performance, individual or group ("Tales From the Hudson"), on the other hand, is no surprise at all. Given the limited number of names nominated in the two categories, the Grammys could just as easily have gone to Joe Lovano or Charlie Haden.

Cassandra Wilson's best jazz vocal performance win for "New Moon Daughter" was predictable, but Diana Krall--whose skills are growing dramatically--would have been an equally appropriate choice.

Finally, in the grab-bag best large jazz ensemble category, the peculiar selection of "Live at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild" by the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Grover Mitchell over pianist Marcus Roberts' inspired reworking of Gershwin in "Portraits in Blue" suggests that the academy should forget about seeking out the best large jazz ensemble and simply establish a big-band category for the satisfaction of its nostalgic membership.

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