There's quality across the board in this year's jazz nominations, with anyone-can-win races in nearly every category.
Best Contemporary Album: Pat Metheny's "Speaking of Now" seems the probable winner, but Joe Zawinul's eclectic "Faces & Places" is the most musically compelling entry.
Best Vocal Album: The likely winner is Natalie Cole's "Ask a Woman Who Knows" or Diana Krall's "Live in Paris," with Cole having the edge. Patti Austin's "For Ella" might also slip in, but let's hope the voters move beyond recent reservations about Krall and acknowledge her finest work in several years.
Best Instrumental Solo: Visibility is the key factor in this quixotic category, and Herbie Hancock, Metheny and Michael Brecker are the grouping's most familiar artists. Hancock is at the front of the pack, but the best choice would be to honor the memory of the incomparable Tommy Flanagan, who died in November.
Best Instrumental Album: It's hard to look past the team of Hancock, Brecker and Roy Hargrove in "Directions In Music" or McCoy Tyner's "Plays Coltrane -- Live at the Village Vanguard," with Hancock again in the lead. The cream of the crop, however, is Wayne Shorter's marvelous "Footprints Live!"
Best Large Ensemble Album: No stiffs here, though Dave Holland probably has the career momentum to take the award with "What Goes Around." But the most compelling collection: the Mingus Big Band's "Tonight at Noon: Three or Four Shades of Love."
-- Don Heckman