Well what’s to think about the Grammy nominations just announced? I know what you’re saying: they don’t really have much bearing on jazz certainly on this side of the Atlantic but whenever anyone is nominated suddenly everything changes! And I must say when singer Norma Winstone was nominated a few years back it certainly made a difference at least in perception terms and the continued faith of her record company. Anyway here’s my take on who will win and who should win when the big day comes around.

Best Improvised jazz solo

‘Cross Roads’ Ravi Coltrane. Track from: Spirit Fiction Blue Note

‘Hot House’ Gary Burton & Chick Corea. Track from: Hot House Concord Jazz

‘Alice In Wonderland’ Chick Corea. Track from: Further Explorations (Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian) Concord Jazz

‘J. Mac’ Kenny Garrett. Track from: Seeds From The Underground Mack Avenue Records

‘Ode’ Brad Mehldau. Track from: Ode (Brad Mehldau Trio) Nonesuch

Pretty good choices. A return to form for Garrett for sure. This category is probably the most subjective of the jazz ones, and it’s interesting that all the artists play in the post-bop domain and with the exception of Garrett record for major labels. The Grammys are in many ways all about the big labels. Will win: Chick Corea. Should go to: Kenny Garrett

Best Jazz Vocal Album

Soul Shadows Denise Donatelli Savant Records

1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project Kurt Elling Concord Jazz

Live Al Jarreau (And The Metropole Orkest) Concord

The Book Of Chet Luciana Souza Sunnyside Records

Radio Music Society Esperanza Spalding Heads Up International

Donatelli is a surprise inclusion, unknown outside America, and it’s good to see Souza long on many people’s radar getting recognition.

Will win: Esperanza Spalding. Should win: Esperanza Spalding

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Further Explorations Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian Concord Jazz

Hot House Chick Corea & Gary Burton Concord Jazz

Seeds From The Underground Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue Records

Blue Moon Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village

Unity Band Pat Metheny Unity Band Nonesuch

A strong list. Chick is a Grammy darling and you can’t rule him out here especially as his reimagining of Bill Evans on Further Explorations was such an imaginative exercise, and a poignant reminder of the much missed Motian. But, the big but, with Pat Metheny also in the running (the most beGrammied jazz musician ever) and more importantly the sheer vitality of his “with sax" Unity Band quartet he’s nominated for this time the Academy might just be swayed once again in his favour. It should be Ahmad Jamal’s year, but let’s not hold our breath even though the album is a credit to the great Pittsburgian and a wake-up call to pianists half or even a quarter of his age.
Will win:
Unity Band. Should win: Blue Moon

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Centennial: Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans Gil Evans Project ArtistShare

For The Moment Bob Mintzer Big Band MCG Jazz

Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You) Arturo Sandoval Concord Jazz

Bit of a ho hum selection (and only three names), although they’re all class acts. The Evans album is also up for a Jazz FM award in January. Will win: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Should win: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans

Best Latin Jazz Album

Flamenco Sketches Chano Domínguez Blue Note

¡Ritmo! The Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band Clare Fischer Productions/Clavo Records 

Multiverse Bobby Sanabria Big Band Jazzheads

Duos III Luciana Souza Sunnyside Records

New Cuban Express Manuel Valera New Cuban Express Mavo Records

Hard to predict this one but Domínguez is the coming man with the primatur of no less a figure than Wynton Marsalis in his back catalogue, although Sanabria could get the nod. Will win: Flamenco Sketches Should win: Flamenco Sketches

In other major categories Gregory Porter is surely a shoo-in for ‘Real Good Hands’ in the best traditional R&B performance category (why’s he not in jazz vocals?), and Hugh Masekela is up for a world music nod (again, categories, categories). Robert Glasper again is not in a jazz category but is up for best R&B album for Black Radio and best R&B performance for the Ledisi track ‘Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B)’, a sign the way his career is perceived to be going, and Dr John is nominated for the very fine Locked Down in the blues category. Finally, the category no one wants to be in and what a grisly list. I give you the pop instrumental album nominees with Gerald Albright & Norman Brown, Chris Botti, Larry Carlton, Arun Shenoy, and of course Dave Koz, all vying for the accolade no-one surely can want. Shhh, it’s mostly smooth jazz.

Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Kenny Garrett up for two Grammys


Well what is there to say that won’t be said a hundred, a thousand times today and tomorrow and then the day after and beyond, about Dave Brubeck whose death at 91 following heart failure has been announced? The subject is vast and the analysis will be long and needed.

Along with only a tiny number of jazz musicians (Louis Armstrong chief among them) his name transcended music and was public property, in Brubeck’s case mainly because of ‘Take Five’ the instrumental hit Paul Desmond wrote and the quartet played to such effect, achieved with the slightly unusual time signature, impatient feel, and a melody that has permeated the very sinews of every street corner you’re likely to chance upon. A “living legend" the US Library of Congress put it, he passed away in Connecticut but his music was not of a place, more of a state of mind. A gentle reverie a generation of college educated Americans in the late 1950s and 60s will feel was synonymous with their youth, and which will remain.

Above Dave Brubeck on the cover of Time magazine


Pianist and composer Neil Cowley has been named musician in residence in Derry for next year’s UK City of Culture festivities in the city.

Backed by the PRS for Music Foundation, local venue the Nerve Centre, and the City of Culture artistic team, Cowley, whose latest trio-plus-strings album is The Face of Mount Molehill, will be working with local musicians to perform new music primarily at the Nerve Centre.

The Cowley trio is known for its strong hooky melodies and energy-laden riffs, which appeal to rock and jazz fans alike. “What we do live is perhaps a step up from the record,” Cowley told legendary US jazz magazine Downbeat in the autumn ahead of his well received Barbican date when the basic unit was augmented with the Goldsmiths strings for Cowley’s biggest UK jazz gig to date. “We’re very much about a collective output. We’re about melodies, and the collective energy we produce.”

Cowley, who turned 40 last month is also known for his work with superstar singer Adele and was pianist on the smash hit ‘Rolling In The Deep’. The Cowley Trio is a popular draw on the international festival circuit, and toured in the US recently. At the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Cowley presented newly arranged versions of songs from his debut, the BBC award winning album Displaced, including a magisterial version of the tune ‘How Do We Catch Up’. Cowley’s trio is built around what’s been dubbed an “Estuary sound" and with the pianist are original drummer Evan Jenkins, who is from Wellington in New Zealand, but who has lived and worked in the UK since 1994, and recently recruited Australian bassist Rex Horan, who replaced Richard Sadler, the player who appeared on the first three albums with Cowley and Jenkins. Horan has been living in the UK since 1997 but met Jenkins four years earlier in Western Australia, when they were both students in Perth. They then hooked up with various bands and now with Cowley make a formidable team that should enliven the Derry scene during a very special year and bring jazz to the fore.

Neil Cowley, pictured above


The Jazz Café in Camden Town may have just been sold by its owner HMV along with nearby venue Barfly, a big Manchester venue the Ritz, and the east London Groove Armada-associated festival Lovebox in a £7.3m deal to a soul-less private equity firm.

But that won’t make any difference to the soulful legend set to appear at the venue next week. It may even spur her on. Because in a swan song, maybe, for a club that has become a fun plaything for corporate financiers in recent weeks, it’s the great soul and R&B singer from Detroit, Bettye LaVette coming in to play a rare date.

She’s celebrating 50 years in the music business as a performer, released a pulsatingly different new album Thankful N’ Thoughtful, and she’s written a gripping autobiography A Woman Like Me, with David Ritz.

A librarian she is not. Like Jimmy Scott, who Ritz has also written about, Bettye LaVette has had more than her fair share of ups and downs over the years and was a star and then wasn’t, then kind of became one again for a variety of reasons which the book goes into readable detail about.

On Thankful the Detroiter teams with Craig Street, the producer who turned Cassandra Wilson’s career right around in the 1990s when he worked with the Mississipian on the superb Blue Light Til Dawn in the 1990s on which Wilson moved beyond her comfort zone for the first time to absolutely devastating effect. His touch, and that voice, makes LaVette’s latest ready-made for jazz fans to dip their toes in soulsville once more.

LaVette because of the nature of the kind of soul and R&B she thrives on (roughly Tina Turner land) maybe didn’t have to make such a leap with Street, and as she dips in and out of different styles gives each of them her own emotively compelling life force.

The tracks are an astute mix of genre-denying tunes, and I have been hitting replay on Bob Dylan’s ‘Everything is Broken’ and the leftfield folk singer Patty Griffin’s song ‘Time Will Do The Talking’, which is just remarkable. Who would have thought such alchemy could have been achieved? It’s the measure of LaVette as an artist that this has occurred at all.

There are plenty of other goodies rattling around on the album including material by the Black Keys, Tom Waits and Neil Young, and LaVette manages even to breathe new life into Gnarls Barkley’s done-to-death ‘Crazy’, in itself a neat trick.

LaVette’s band on the record is Chris Bruce, guitar; Jonathan Wilson guitar, banjo; Glenn Patscha, piano, keys; Jennifer Condos, bass; JJ Johnson, drums, percussion; Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob on ‘Yesterday Is Here’; and Douglas Wieselman, reeds on the same track.

I’m not sure who her band in Camden will be on the night just yet. Doesn’t really matter to an extent. But do yourself a favour: and get down to Parkway before the equity fund people ruin the place for good. With the festive season and January gloom around the corner, and before changes kick in at the venue, it might just be the last time.

Stephen Graham

Bettye LaVette pictured top. Photo: Marina Chavez


Nat Birchall
World Without Form
Sound, Soul and Spirit ***
Nat Birchall has got to be the generation X and northern English version of Alan Skidmore. You can’t just say that about anyone, not when sincere and detailed study and contemplation of John Coltrane is at issue. Anyone who tries half- heartedly to make the scene, unlike Skid or Nat, just won’t cut it. World Without Form never says it’s a Coltrane tribute, as Alan Skidmore records sometimes do, but it’s pretty clear throughout these seven tracks. There are twists and additional elements though, and in a nutshell these are involved with the contribution of pianist Adam Fairhall who can blow up all Matthew Shipp-like at times, something very different to McCoy Tyner’s work with Coltrane; and then there’s the vibes, bells and shakers of Corey Mwamba, adding a piquancy and altered view into the majesty of the Coltrane sound. World Without Form follows last year’s Sacred Dimension. Like Guiding Spirit and the earlier Akhenaten it came out in the same stylistic vein (with added Pharoah-isms sometimes) and was released on Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Records, a label that has a north-west England base and revivalist DJ instincts. Halsall has been quoted as saying that Birchall’s music is “spiritual, soulful and honest”, which is a perfect way of putting it. This new release on a new imprint of Birchall’s own has more emotion than Sacred Dimension, and with the different arrangements an openness and power that after a while allow you to move on from thinking just about Coltrane. I still think Birchall has not travelled far beyond his comfort zone and that there are great things still to come from him in the future. Yet, as with Skidmore, he is doing everyone a favour with this crucially important jazz, bringing the music to a new younger audience. As a conduit to the spirit of Coltrane Birchall can do no wrong.

Stephen Graham

Out now

The Nat Birchall Quintet play Matt And Phred’s in Manchester on 4 January. Birchall pictured above

A CV to match few others in contemporary jazz, a giant of the music, and of the bass, Weber is a remarkable man, someone I had the privilege to interview in the mid-1990s, and whose name I first saw before I had even heard any of his music at least consciously.

It was there vibrant and striking a few years earlier on a slightly torn poster on the staircase wall of a jazz club called Akwarium in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

Yet thinking about it outside jazz, even though little did I know, I had of course heard him on the radio, through his extensive work with Kate Bush, on albums such as Hounds of Love, released in 1985.

Now 72, besides his work with Jan Garbarek that began in 1982, which Résumé concentrates on beginning in 1990, Weber, who was born in the southern German city of Stuttgart also worked extensively in the early part of his career with fellow Stuttgarter, pianist Wolfgang Dauner. Later in the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble, Weber would join Dauner to play for a time as well.

Just two years ago ECM began to present the Weber story to a new generation and of course his loyal public from the early days by releasing a three-CD Old & Masters Edition box that concentrated on Weber’s band Colours (which teamed Weber in its personnel with his later Garbarek band colleague Rainer Brüninghaus).

This band lasted for six years from 1975 and produced the beautiful Yellow Fields, as well as Silent Feet and Little Movements, complementary to his earlier masterwork The Colours of Chloё that initially made Weber’s name in 1974.

The new album draws on live recordings made between 1990 and 2007, solo spots at Garbarek concerts, edited for taste and sequencing and some fresh Garbarek input.

Weber uses ‘a reverb unit’, an echo delay, to accompany himself on his customised five-string electric double bass (and keyboards) for most of this exquisitely powerful album, Garbarek cropping up on three tracks, with drummer/percussionist Michael DiPasqua on two others.

The track titles have a simplicity and grandeur to them, performed in famous old European places mainly, giving each a location as title: hence ‘Grenoble’; ‘Amsterdam’; ‘Lazise’; and closer to home, with Garbarek adding selje flute, ‘Bath’.

Weber retired from the Garbarek quartet through ill health five years ago following a stroke, and the passing of time is also marked by some lovely liner note paintings by Weber’s wife Maja whose work adorns the covers of Weber classics down the years notably The Colours of Chloë and Yellow Fields.

It’s an immersive experience listening to Résumé. The bass is an orchestra in Weber’s magical hands.

Stephen Graham

Résumé is out now