The MOBO nominations are released tonight. Last year Kairos 4tet was nominated in the best jazz act category, and Empirical and Yolanda Brown are recent winners. It’s a very difficult one to call, and I’ve blogged about this before in connection with the Mercurys.

The four in the frame for me this year are: 

Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Truthfully

The cellist vocalist released this EP quietly last year. A rare UK winner at the famed Apollo amateur night in New York where she also spent time as a student at the Manhattan School of Music Witter-Johnson has the ability to cross boundaries with her carefully crafted compositions and thoughtful manner. If the 27-year-old Londoner gets the nomination, it will be for her authenticity and quiet distinctiveness, a quality in short supply for sure. 

Femi Temowo
Orin Meta
Just under a year ago guitarist Femi Temowo launched his second album Orin Meta in the unusual surroundings of Under The Bridge, the venue beneath the Shed End of Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge home, Best known for his work with Soweto Kinch who also appears on the album among a large cast of musicians and singers the British Nigerian surely has an original guitar approach, marking him out as a new jazz guitar star having absorbed his influences and come up with something new, honed in the past by performing with Soweto Kinch in the early J-Noir promoted days of Kinch’s career at gigs in the West End around 2003, and as a leader with his partly realised debut album Quiet Storm already under his belt released five years ago. He could well be on the MOBO radar this year.

Zara McFarlane
Until Tomorrow

Released on Gilles Peterson’s label last year this took a while to grow but with a confident live performance and interesting, emotive songs blessed with unusual harmonies and a refreshing approach McFarlane (pictured, top) made a lot of fans with this album. It’s a long way since she was a vocalist with Jazz Jamaica, but even then when she sang on Stevie Wonder’s ‘My Cherie Amour’ it was clear she had a big talent that has now come to fruition. Zara would be a popular choice.  

Zoe Rahman
Kindred Spirits
Zoe has won a Mercury nomination in the past and at the beginning of her career a Perrier, so she’s no stranger to awards. Very experienced, an unusual pianist in that her key jazz influence was Joanne Brackeen, and she merges music from her Bengali heritage and even Irish heritage on this her latest album. Touring with Courtney Pine and Spatial AKA has added to her range and stagecraft, and her inclusion on the MOBO list of nominations would be a shrewd and knowledgeable choice.  

Let’s see who’s on the list. From 8pm #mobo on Twitter and over at mobo.com

Stephen Graham

UPDATE: All the above were indeed nominated plus Roller Trio

One of the classiest guitarists and singers around, Matt Backer crops up in all sorts of people’s bands and on their records, most notably in recent years with Rumer on the superb Seasons of my Soul, and he’s currently touring with the Radio 2 A-playlisted Ethio-Swedish singer Emilia Mitiku.

But Backer doesn’t often release his own records, and the possibly ironically-titled Idle Hands is that bit more special for this reason.

His last album The Impulse Man came out in 2006 and picked up plenty of airplay in the States, but it was five years on from Is That All? So following a certain pattern here comes this one, with Julian Lennon joining the London-based American on the stirring ‘All That You’ve Wanted’, the fourth track here.

Martin Fry of ABC, who performed with Backer’s band at a rollicking Blues Kitchen gig in Camden at the tail end of last year, is also featured on the likeable Radio 2-friendly ‘Halfway To Jessica’ complete with a slab of standout Shadows-like shuddering bass.

But the album begins on a different tack with the Steely Dan-esque ‘Let’s Art’ and ‘Freak Patrol’, so there’s plenty of variety at work with Backer even unashamedly garage rock-inclined at times with a bluesy tinge on ‘I’m No Fool.’ A welcome return from a fine player who really should be better known under his own name.   

Stephen Graham

Released by Right Recordings through Nova. Out now.

Playing in the foyer must be one of the hardest things an artist has to do. 

Just looking around before Emilia Mårtensson and Barry Green took to the Box Office stage in the foyer of Kings Place at the annual Kings Place festival it’s as if there’s a riot in leisure going on. At the back there’s the candy store; over near some of the quietest escalators in London the regular café; and dotted about are simply dozens and dozens of people sitting, chatting, waiting to be entertained for free. Little kids before the duo came on were dancing to the re-imagined Brahms of a clarinet ‘taverna’ quintet, someone was grappling with a skateboard, don’t ask, and a steward was loading a bicycle into a lift.   

But for Swedish singer Mårtensson and London pianist Green playing songs from their excellent Babel album And So It Goes they could have been in a library. Nothing would have fazed this pair. There was nothing subliminal in the opening song, Jacques Brel’s ‘If You Go Away’, or was there?    

The audience to their credit began to listen after a while, and the din of excited and muffled chat, tinkling cups, and tumbling tots died down to at best a dull roar. rtensson tall, with long fair tresses and an imposing physique has a surprisingly quiet voice with plenty of light and shade to it not at all sung full gale at you, and the outcome was mellow but not in a Heart Radio sense. Green is an ideal accompanist who has a sensitivity to the gestures and cadences of singers as different as say show singer Claudia Morris as he is to the more left-field Mårtensson. In a purely instrumental setting, for instance with bop legend Charles McPherson, he can come over all Kenny Drew-like, remember that great master? But here he took a little run here and there although he didn’t really have to: it was enough to enjoy the voicings and resolutions.The foyer, no matter how plush, and Kings Place’s is exceedingly plush and beautiful, is a place no one wants to play, but everyone wants to congregate in. Mårtensson and Green gave it a great go, but please Mr Promoter put them on a stage that better suits their talents next time. 

Stephen Graham 

The pair, pictured above, play another foyer, at the Southbank Centre on the 28th; and the opening night of the London Jazz Festival on 9 November, at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho