There’s been a recent debate on a few websites spurred on in part by Ethan Iverson’s comments on the value or otherwise of high profile contests and prizes with comments flying across the Internet for and against. I suppose the same will happen here in the UK once this year’s MOBO and Mercury award nominations are announced over the next few weeks. In some ways it’s more about the nominations, and the furore, if there is any, dies down when the winners are announced.
This year the Mercury announcement has been delayed partly because of the Olympics taking over, so nominations which are usually held in July are happening this month instead, with the winner announced in November.
Last year one of the bands that was hotly tipped to be Mercury annointed, the very fine Kairos 4tet, got nada but actually went on to win the MOBO for best jazz act, while the Mercury nom itself went to Gwilym Simcock for his airy but formidable Schloss Elmau solo piano album recorded, as you do, at a spa retreat in Bavaria.
Simcock this year has been touring with Anglo-American band The Impossible Gentlemen out of contention and with Lighthouse, definitely in with a chance, and if Lighthouse have been entered they’ll surely take up some of the judges’ chin scratching time as their own album (it’s Simcock with saxophonist Tim Garland and Asaf Sirkis) was one of the standout releases of the year for many. Portico Quartet, who were nominated for an earlier album changed tack this year to release a more electronica-oriented album, so don’t rule them out for the Mercury in this new guise, surely a prime candidate for a band that has changed dramatically from its jazz roots. Another outfit, which features former Jade Fox scenester David Okumu and Polar Bear’s Tom Herbert, The Invisible, has also moved well away from early influences and may get nominated but not in the “token jazz” spot, as they inhabit a trusted patch of indie-land.
While 2012 has seen few obvious jazz acts build such a consensus around them to make their appeal so blindingly obvious they’ll just stroll up for a Mercury or MOBO, other bands surely in consideration must be Roller Trio (if they’ve been entered like all of these mentioned I hasten to caution), Phronesis, if the rules allow them entry, Troyka, trioVD, Neil Cowley Trio for The Face of Mount Molehill, Get The Blessing for OCDC, Django Bates, Zara McFarlane, Josh Arcoleo, Partikel, World Service Project, Arun Ghosh, Beats and Pieces, a rare big band possible, Alexander Hawkins, Julian Joseph, Stuart McCallum, John Surman for Saltash Bells, and Trio Libero, if the rules allow the band on the tip sheet. Black Top (Pat Thomas, Steve Williamson and Orphy Robinson) have still to record so maybe they’re one to watch for next year as are Sons of Kemet. Dice Factory have made their presence felt with their self titled debut but that’s a late entrant, and Courtney Pine’s House of Legends while not released yet may have been entered if it met the Mercury and MOBO deadlines. Ivo Neame’s Yatra might be too late as well but if not it’s in with a shout. Both Ian Shaw and Claire Martin have released strong vocal records and Matthew Bourne’s Montauk Variations would be a great left field choice, and at its polar opposite young crooner Alexander Stewart made a good showing with his take on the Smiths on his debut album.
So it will be interesting to see who gets the nod. It could even be none of the above. In recent years it’s been pianists all the way with Simcock and Kit Downes while the MOBOs have moved away from the crossover smooth jazz of Yolanda Brown to post-bop last year. I’d like to see either Neil Cowley Trio, Get the Blessing, Matthew Bourne, or Troyka bask in the Mercury glow this year, they’d all be fine ambassadors for the music, and Zara McFarlane, Jazz Jamaica or Black Top pick up the MOBO, as the best jazz act category does not necessarily need a brand new album to guarantee inclusion.
Whoever gets it I hope they capture the wider media’s imagination so that the word can get out about the UK scene that bit more. Otherwise we’ll have to wait until the next set of awards to try to up the scene’s profile and they’re in January when Jazz FM launch their inaugural gongs.
In the running
Simcock, Garland, Sirkis Lighthouse ACT
Roller Trio Roller Trio F-IRE
Partikel Cohesion Whirlwind
Portico Quartet Portico Quartet Real World
The Invisible Rispah Ninja Tune
Get The Blessing OCDC Naim
Django Bates Confirmation Lost Marble
World Service Project Relentless Brooke
Arun Ghosh Primal Odyssey Camoci
Beats and Pieces Big Ideas Efpi
Alexander Hawkins Ensemble All There, Ever Out Babel
Julian Joseph Live at the Vortex in London ASC
Troyka Moxxy Edition
Claire Martin Too Much In Love To Care Linn
Ian Shaw A Ghost In Every Bar Splashpoint
Zara McFarlane Until Tomorrow Brownswood
Sheppard, Benita, Rochford Trio Libero ECM
Stuart McCallum Distilled Naim
Dice Factory Dice Factory Babel
Ivo Neame Yatra Edition
Matthew Bourne Montauk Variations Leaf
Alexander Stewart All Or Nothing At All Alexander Stewart Music
Neil Cowley Trio The Face of Mount Molehill Naim
Get the Blessing: will they bag an award? Pictured top, and Zara McFarlane, above