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Solid choices in Grammy jazz nominations

Allen Toussaint's 'Bright Mississippi' is in the running in the best instrumental album category. The Bay Area's Julian Lage is one of the contemporary nominees, as is veteran Mike Stern.

December 03, 2009|By Chris Barton

Grammy voters might have made some baffling choices this year (seriously, Hall & Oates?), but not when it came to the jazz categories.

Though there was speculation that Allen Toussaint's "The Bright Mississippi" might sneak into the major categories with its rich, reverent take on the classic sound of New Orleans, the album instead was nominated in the jazz instrumental album category.

There it will compete against the John Patitucci Trio's "Remembrance" and a pair of solid if not entirely groundbreaking live albums from Gary Burton teamed with Pat Metheny, in addition to the Chick Corea and John McLaughlin reunion, "Five Peace Band Live."

In the contemporary jazz category, veteran fusion guitarist Mike Stern earned a nomination for "Big Neighborhood," a sprawling, adventurous record that featured such guests as Esperanza Spalding, Steve Vai and Medeski Martin & Wood. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris also earned a nomination for his hip-hop-friendly Blackout ensemble's "Urbanus."

A welcome surprise in this category was the inclusion of Bay Area guitar phenom Julian Lage, who earned a nomination for his contemplative, acoustic-leaning debut "Sounding Point." But all will have a tough time competing against the Grammy tradition of honoring artists who recently died, in this case Joe Zawinul and the Zawinul Syndicate's final live recording, "75."

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble's "Eternal Interlude" marked another unexpected choice by Grammy voters in the large jazz ensemble category. The drummer for the genre-splicing New York jazz group the Claudia Quintet, Hollenbeck delivers anything but a typical big band sound with the Ensemble -- their music is full of swirling rhythms and classical-adjacent song structures.

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