Of the 109 Grammy awards given, 6 of them go to jazz albums. In the universe of music, with jazz accounting for less than 3% of all albums sales, you might say the Grammys are very generous giving the jazz area 6 trophies. But if you like this music, and you dig into the five people nominated in each of these 6 categories, you will find some astonishingly good music.
A refreshing turn of events here is that the vast majority of the nominees come from small independent labels. (Perhaps this is not a surprise as the major labels have pretty much abandoned new jazz and spend most of their time mining their catalogs over and over again). And another wonderful discovery this year is the large number of Los Angeles-based musicians showing up on the short list.
A perfect example of this is found in the “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” category: three of the 5 nominees are either LA-based, or self-professed “bi-coastal” musicians. The Clayton Brothers turn in a grand project, “The New Song and Dance” on ArtistShare. The sentimental favorite and front-runner will be James Moody’s album “Moody 4B” from IPO records. (Moody was one of my early heroes, and he will be sorely missed with his passing this week). But for the moment let me dwell on the outstanding project that John Beasley turns in, “Positootly!” on Resonance Records.
The follow-up to Beasley’s “Letter To Herbie”, this album continues to show the pianist’s many talents. His improvising is exceptional; the compositions are interesting, harmonically challenging but still musical and constantly swinging. John reunites with Jeff ‘Tain” Watts on drums, and adds bassist James Genus to the mix this time. Their playing together is intuitive and always joyful. “Tain” is a master of the toms, and he plays inside and outside the beat with equal skill.
The album takes the listener on a wonderful journey through many styles and aspects of jazz, from jazz trio to New Orleans funk to a little electric jazz, to tango and songs that could easily have been written and performed by Miles Davis’ classic quintet. The whole project totally holds together with John’s distinct piano style and writing.
It is a pleasure to hear Bennie Maupin stretch out on this record and do some straight-ahead blowing. Brian Lynch on trumpet keeps pace with Bennie, and the whole band swings especially hard on the opening cut “Caddo Bayou”, as well as “Black Thunder”
The few compositions that are not originals are well chosen. Beasley’s take on Jobim’s “Dindi” is unique – if I did not know the tune I might not even recognize it in this swinging version. His tribute to Bobbie Timmons is wonderful. Bobbie was one of the most overlooked pianists and composers in jazz, and it is great to hear one of his songs again.
If you think you know this album after the first 5 cuts, think again. Beasley’s take on Piazzola’s “Tanguedia III” kicks off the second half of this album and is probably the most inventive cut on the album. Each of the following songs is different and wonderful in their own ways. And whenever Bennie Maupin appears on a cut, with his soprano or tenor sax, it kicks the band up another notch.
Whether Beasley wins the Grammy or not, the nomination is well deserved, and this project deserves to be heard, and not just in jazz clubs. It swings and rocks, and is “Positootly” worth buying.