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Downbeat Critics Poll: 2014
Notes on my voting for Downbeat's 2014 Critics Poll. The voting was conducted using SurveyMonkey. For each of 50-some questions, they provided an extensive list of nominees, but also allowed write-ins. Those I voted for are in bold. The write-ins are in bold italic. The survey allowed for more point responsibility, but I always gave 5 points to my 1st pick, 3 to my second, and 2 to my 3rd.
Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz (5), George Russell (3), Anthony Braxton (2). Konitz has been polling between 2nd and 5th for a decade now, as if the critics are waiting for him to die before putting him over. What is he, 87 now? Still playing too, not that anyone who's paid attention since Subconscious-Lee in 1950 needs to wait for a final accounting. Enough, already! It's impossible to overstate the importance of Russell (which I suspect many critics just don't get) or Braxton (ditto, but a shade less so). First pass: on ballot I also considered voting for: Han Bennink, Paul Bley, Jaki Byard, Don Cherry, Jimmy Giuffre, Abdullah Ibrahim, Illinois Jacquet, Sam Rivers, Cedar Walton, Randy Weston. Note that Tommy Flanagan, Misha Mengelberg, and Bud Shank were on my first pass list last year, but have been dropped from the ballot -- this is a tough category, progressively so given how few are elected each year: in 2013: Charlie Haden (critics), Pat Metheny (readers), Robert Johnson (by the veterans committee, founded to help catch up in 2008 and now falling down on the job).
For what it's worth, others on the ballot (notation: 3 = in, but when?; 2 = maybe; 1 = not really; 0 = who are you kidding?; + indicates new on this year's ballot): Fred Anderson (2), Derek Bailey (2), Tony Bennett+ (1), George Benson (0), Bob Brookmeyer (2), Kenny Burrell (1), Thomas Chapin (1), Buddy DeFranco (2), Jack DeJohnette (2), George Duke+ (0), Von Freeman (1), Bill Frisell (3), Steve Gadd (0), Jan Garbarek (2), Benny Golson (2), Grant Green (3), Jim Hall (2), Chico Hamilton+ (1), Eddie Harris (2), Jimmy Heath+ (2), Jon Hendricks (1), Billy Higgins (2), Dave Holland (2), Shirley Horn (2), Bobby Hutcherson (2), Ronald Shannon Jackson+ (1), Eddie Jefferson (0), B.B. King (1), Yusef Lateef (1), Melba Liston (1), Charles Lloyd (2), Professor Longhair (1), Wynton Marsalis (1), John McLaughlin (3), Marian McPartland (2), Carmen McRae (2), Hank Mobley (2), James Moody (1), Joe Morello (1), Mark Murphy (0), Oliver Nelson (2), Les Paul (1), Tito Puente (3), Pharoah Sanders (3), Gunther Schuller (1), Tomasz Stanko (3), Esbjorn Svensson (1), Toots Thielemans (1), Mel Tormé (2), Chucho Valdes+ (2), Frank Wess (2), Joe Williams (1), Phil Woods (2), John Zorn (2).
Aside from those already mentioned (Tommy Flanagan, Misha Mengelberg, and Bud Shank -- all 3 on the above scale), others on the ballot last year but not this: Lenny Breau (0), Pete Fountain (0), Bobby McFerrin (0), Enrico Rava (1), Bobo Stenson (1), Gianluigi Trovesi (1), Muddy Waters (1).
Downbeat's interest in blues is historical but hasn't begun to register here. Indeed, it's impossible to take seriously a HOF for blues musicians where Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf can't even get on the ballot.
I've limited myself to the ballot here. Were I to write a name in, it would be Don Pullen, or maybe Jimmy Rushing. I tried to build up a long list of good candidates a few years back: the file is here, but I'd caution you that while I've updated it to reflect elections and deaths, I haven't fiddled with the rankings or made a pass to move younger players into the "prospects" list.
Jazz Artist: William Parker (5), Ken Vandermark (3), Matthew Shipp (2). This is one of those je ne sais quoi categories -- I'm never sure what it means, but I'm looking for people who are active on lots of things, and not necessarily just their own work. First pass: Kenny Barron, Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Mary Halvorson, Vijay Iyer, Matthew Shipp, Wadada Leo Smith, Craig Taborn, John Zorn. I voted for Smith-Parker-Iyer last year. A good write in would be Ivo Perelman, who cranked out his usual half-dozen good records last year, or Satoko Fujii, who came up just short. Of course, it's possible the editors mean something completely different by this category. Maybe some measure of publicity, otherwise I can't imagine what Esperanza Spalding and Trombone Shorty are doing on the ballot.
Rising Star -- Jazz Artist: Jon Irabagon (5), Peter Evans (3), Mary Halvorson (2). First two share two great MOPDTK albums plus have their own good solo projects (although Irabagon's Outright stunk). Halvorson continues to make my life difficult, but sometimes she's worth the trouble. First pass: Ben Allison, John Hollenbeck, Steve Lehman, Donny McCaslin, Ted Nash, Jenny Scheinman, Colin Stetson, Marcus Strickland, Craig Taborn. Voted for Lehman-Irabagon-Strickland last year. I don't recall new records from two of those.
Jazz Album of the Year (April 1, 2013-March 31, 2014): William Parker, Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (AUM Fidelity) (5); Craig Handy, Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (OKeh) (3); Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom, No Morphine, No Lilies (Royal Potato Family) (2).
I limited myself to the ballot here, on the theory that write-ins don't have a chance to finish in the print, and won't influence next year's ballot. The ballot lists 113 records. I've only heard 78 of them, and perhaps more significantly only gave 12 A-list grades. Three lists follow: albums on the ballot that I've rated; albums on the ballot I haven't heard; and albums not on the ballot that made my A-list. The latter took some extra work to compile due to the three-month offset from the calendar year.
I really wish Downbeat would adopt calendar year eligibility criteria -- partly because it vastly simplifies my record keeping, but also it gives critics a little more time to sort out their thoughts, evening out the advantages that late-but-not-too-late releases have in year-end lists (often mandated a month or more before the calendar year closes). I was going to plead ignorance in my own A-list, but thanks to the metacritic file and some quick checking I was able to sift out the January-March 2013 releases, giving me an April 2013-March 2014 A-list. Of course, only being one week past that window, it's inevitable that I've missed late breaking albums. (But then it's also inevitable that I've missed bunches of inaccessible or unknown records, too.)
Albums on their ballot I've heard and graded (sorted by grade, then within grade alphabetically by artist) (75 + 3 above):
Albums on their ballot I haven't heard (35):
The following April 2013-March 2014 albums didn't make Downbeat's ballot, but I rated them A- (or better). Listed alphabetically (60):
Some of these records are pretty obscure -- Hunger Pangs, Rent Romus, and Two Al's are names that jump out at me -- but most even where the artist isn't well known have reputable publicists behind them. Some records fared well in the Jazz Critics Poll (e.g., Roswell Rudd, MOPDTK; Mary Halvorson's Illusionary Sea wasn't on my A-list -- told you she makes my life difficult -- but came out Sept. 10 and finished 10th). Moreover, they missed some really obvious 2014 releases, like Vijay Iyer's Mutations and Regina Carter's Southern Comfort.
Historical Album (April 1, 2013-March 31, 2014): Art Pepper, Unreleased Art Vol. VIII: Live at the Winery (Widow's Taste) (5); Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors: Ornette Live at Prince Street (BGP) (3); Gene Ludwig-Pat Martino Trio: Young Guns (High Note) (2). Two write-ins here. I get very few reissues, especially the huge Sony/Legacy collections (not that I don't very likely have every note of their Louis Armstrong compendium on some other CD) or the pricey Mosaic boxes. And it looks like the one extravagant gift I did get -- New York Art Quartet's Call It Art -- had a March 15, 2013 release date. So rather than vote for something as insubstantial as Tony Bennett's White House tapes, I pretty much had to write something in.
The following is the same workout as with new records. Note that I didn't get this year's Miles Davis bootleg set. I believe the first two Davis bootlegs won the poll handily, but this one wasn't released until March 25, actually after the ballot invites went out.
Albums on their ballot I've heard and graded (sorted by grade, then within grade alphabetically by artist) (4 + 1 above):
Albums on their ballot I haven't heard (32):
The following April 2013-March 2014 "historical" albums didn't make Downbeat's ballot, but I rated them A- (or better). Listed alphabetically (4 + 2 above):
Jazz Group: Mostly Other People Do the Killing (5); Claudia Quintet (3); Rova (2).
The overwhelming majority of nominees are leader-named groups, like Charles Lloyd Quartet, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Brad Mehldau Trio, Keith Jarrett Standards Trio, Christian McBride & Inside Straight -- some of those have been so consistent and stable (like the first four) that they could be thought of as group efforts, but I still tend to think of them as extensions of the leader, so I passed them by. (Other nominated "groups" like Dave Douglas Quintet are always changing.) That doesn't leave much. First pass: The Bad Plus, Microscopic Septet. I voted for MOPDTK last year, and they were on the ballot then, but are only on the Rising Star ballot this year. They had two great albums last year, running their streak to five (or six if you count the live one), whereas, say, New Gary Burton Quartet has one (not bad) record to its credit.
Other groups dropped from the ballot: Atomic (still very active), Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy (more a lineup than a group), and Vandermark 5 (a great group, despite the leader name, but no longer active).
Rising Star Jazz Group: Mostly Other People Do the Killing (5), Trio M (3), The Whammies (2). First pass: 3 Cohens, The Cookers, Ellery Eskelin New York Trio, Billy Martin's Wicked Knee, Revolutionary Snake Enemble, São Paulo Underground, The Thing. Mentioned a couple artist-named groups because I wanted to. Noteworthy that Chicago Underground didn't make either ballot. Like the Thing, they've been together for more than a decade, so should be up top. In the past I've voted for Sonic Liberation Front, but no new record last year. I thought about writing Ideal Bread in, they went with the other Steve Lacy tribute band since they had a record last year, but Ideal Bread may turn the tables with their upcoming 2-CD set (I have an advance, but haven't reviewed it yet).
Also thought about writing in Martin Küchen's group Angles (last heard expanded to Angles 8). A little scratching would reveal a bunch of contenders: Humanization 4tet, Hunger Pangs, 10^32K, Dawn of Midi. The Ex has been a notable rock group for decades but lately they've been leaning deep into jazz.
Big Band: ICP Orchestra (5), Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra (3), Either/Orchestra (2). First pass: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Peter Brötzmann Tentet, Anthony Brown's Asian-American Jazz Orchestra, Satoko Fujii Orchestra, Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band, William Parker & Little Huey, Vienna Art Orchestra, Gerald Wilson Big Band.
I view Argue more as a rising star (although two records into his career he's no longer on that ballot), but I've only heard the records on Rhapsody, so haven't spent much time with them. I was tempted to write in Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble: his third big band, and the one to really get it right.
Rising Star Big Band: The Resonance Ensemble (5); Satoko Fujii Orchestra (3); Howard Wiley and the Angola Project (2). First pass: Vince Giordano's Nighthawks, Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Vandermark's group has three albums out and they're all terrific. Fujii actually runs four orchestras named for whatever city she's in: the New Yorkers sparkle as individuals, but the Nagoya and Tokyo groups are cohesive and potent. My guess is that more research could dig up some write-in candidates, but Wiley's group is worth a mention.
Trumpet: Dave Douglas (5); Dennis Gonzalez (3); Paul Smoker (2). First pass: Ralph Alessi, Steven Bernstein, Roy Campbell Jr. [RIP], Dave Douglas, Brian Lynch, Wynton Marsalis, Rob Mazurek, Ron Miles, Nils Petter Molvaer, Enrico Rava, Randy Sandke, Wadada Leo Smith, Terrell Stafford, Tomasz Stanko, Natsuki Tamura, Kenny Wheeler. Dennis Gonzalez and James Zollar fell off the ballot, so I wrote in the former as a protest. Otherwise I've been rotating Douglas, Smith, and Steven Bernstein, but the latter didn't have a new album (not that you shouldn't count Billy Martin's Wicked Knee, my top-rated 2013 album but a January release), and Douglas' was better than Smith's. My other write-in had two A- records that nobody heard (although they're on Bandcamp now). Past 70, I can't characterize Smoker as a Rising Star. He's produced way more than enough to deserve a ballot slot here.
Rising Star Trumpet: Peter Evans (5); Darren Johnston (3); Taylor Ho Bynum (2). First pass: Ian Carey, Jonathan Finlayson, Russ Johnson, Kirk Knuffke, Matt Lavelle, Nadje Noordhuis, Corey Wilkes, Nate Wooley.
Trombone: Roswell Rudd (5); Steve Swell (3); Phil Ranelin (2). First pass: Ray Anderson, Jeb Bishop, Luis Bonilla, Steve Davis, Joe Fiedler, Curtis Fowlkes, Jacob Garchik, Wycliffe Gordon, Ku-umba Frank Lacy, George Lewis, Julius Priester, Steve Turre, Wolter Wierbos. Same as last year, but Fiedler and Garchik are moving up, and Anderson just needs to record more. Note that Rudd isn't just sitting on his laurels -- I should have said something about him not being on the HOF ballot -- but came up with the (skewed) year's best album.
Rising Star Trombone: Joe Fiedler (5); Jacob Garchik (3); Samuel Blaser (2). First pass: Michael Dessen, Alan Ferber, Marshall Gilkes, Rafi Malkiel.
Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker (5); Roscoe Mitchell (3); Jan Garbarek (2). First pass: Bruce Ackley, John Butcher, Vinny Golia, Dave Liebman, Sam Newsome, Bob Wilber, Steve Wilson. Well, nobody's going to fill Steve Lacy's shoes. The majority of the nominees built their reputations on other saxes, but it seems like everyone since Coltrane insists on dabbling with the soprano -- I certainly don't think they should list folks who play one token cut per album like James Carter and Branford Marsalis, or even Chris Potter (who's actually pretty good at it). I'd like to be a purist here, but even my picks play other saxes, often better than they play soprano.
Brent Jensen dropped from the ballot. I've voted for him in the past, but don't know of anything new. I've often disparaged Dave Liebman in the past, but he's played some of his best-ever soprano lately -- and he certainly practices enough.
Rising Star Soprano Saxophone: Mike Ellis (5); Jason Robinson (3); Jasmine Lovell-Smith (2). First pass: Michael Blake, Mihaly Borbely, Jimmy Greene. I voted for Borbely last year, but haven't heard anything new from him in a long time. I went through my database looking for post-2000 primary soprano saxophonists (instrument listed first) with recommended albums (some mine, some Penguin Guide) and came up with the following list: Alon Farber, Jim Gailloreto, Laura Macdonald, Liudas Mockunas, Mitch Paliga, Bo van de Graaf, Robin Verheyen, Yuri Yaremtchuk, Samir Zarif. Going back a bit further, I see: Marc Bernstein, Gai Bryant, Michel Doneda, Christoph Gallio, Gianni Gebbia, Joe Giardullo, Andy Haas, Rob Hall, Chris Jonas, Chris Kelsey, Stefano Maltese, Michael Marcus, Roberto Ottaviano, Dave Pietro, Norbert Stein, Pietro Tonolo, Tino Tracanna, Dimitrios Vassilakis. I only recall a few of these (Marcus, who mostly plays manzello and stritch; Giardullo, Haas, Kelsey), but the exercise suggests more names are possible (especially in Italy and eastern Europe).
Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake (5); François Carrier (3); Marty Ehrlich (2). First pass: Gary Bartz, Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Rob Brown, Ornette Coleman, Steve Coleman, Donald Harrison, Benjamin Herman, Jon Irabagon, Sherman Irby, Lee Konitz, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Joe McPhee, Michael Moore, Ted Nash, Greg Osby, Yosvany Terry, Henry Threadgill, Bobby Watson, Steve Wilson, Miguel Zenón, John Zorn. Tough category. Lifetime it would be: Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton. Not sure whether Joe McPhee has more alto or tenor. Among younger players Rudresh Mahanthappa, Ted Nash, and Miguel Zenón are exceptional. In between there are lots of options -- Lake has been most impressive of late.
Rising Star Alto Saxophone: Dave Rempis (5), Steve Lehman (3), Mike DiRubbo (2). First pass: Andrew D'Angelo, Benjamin Herman, Darius Jones, Alexey Kruglov, Alexander McCabe, Logan Richardson, Matana Roberts, Jaleel Shaw, Aram Shelton. Going back through my post-2000 database I see the following additional names of note (unlike the soprano list, these are all musicians I know well): Anna Kaluza, Alex Kontorovich, Martin Küchen, Sarah Manning, Zaid Nasser, John O'Gallagher, Pete Robbins, Rebecca Sneddon, Colin Stetson, Mikolaj Trzaska, Saco Yasuma. Going back further, I also see (some, like Carter and Whitecage, are too old for Rising Stars): Lotte Anker, Michaël Attias, Abraham Burton, Daniel Carter, Jorrit Dijkstra, Peter Epstein, Joel Frahm, Frank Gratkowski, Michael Hashim, Jim Hobbs, Philip Johnston, Sabir Mateen, Jemeel Moondoc, Roy Nathanson, Ned Rothenberg, Steve Slagle, Mark Whitecage. (Frahm and Hashim, and maybe Burton, should probably be considered tenors now.)
Tenor Saxophone: David Murray (5); Ivo Perelman (3); Houston Person (2). First pass: Harry Allen, Eric Alexander, Jerry Bergonzi, Seamus Blake, Peter Brötzmann, James Carter, Anat Cohen, Joel Frahm, Charles Gayle, Jan Garbarek, George Garzone, Jon Irabagon, Kidd Jordan, Charles Lloyd, Joe Lovano, Tony Malaby, Branford Marsalis, Donny McCaslin, Joe McPhee, Larry Ochs, Evan Parker, Chris Potter, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter, Chris Speed, Marcus Strickland, Ken Vandermark, Tim Warfield, Ernie Watts. I figured it's about time I voted for Perelman after five A- records last year. I don't enjoy his sound as much as I do Murray and Person, but he's sure working hard at it. Tenor sax is my favorite instrument, so I could go very deep in this category. Aside from the above, some guys (50+) who didn't make the ballot: Juhani Aaltonen, Gato Barbieri, Ernest Dawkins, Ricky Ford, Rich Halley, Scott Hamilton, Billy Harper, Dave Liebman, Odean Pope, Archie Shepp, Andy Sheppard, Tommy Smith, Lew Tabackin, Bennie Wallace.
Rising Star Tenor Saxophone: Ellery Eskelin (5); Rodrigo Amado (3); Abraham Burton (2). First pass: Matt Bauder, David Sanchez, Grant Stewart, Marcus Strickland. Fewer rising stars at tenor than alto, reversing a trend that probably took shape in the 1950s, although for sheer numbers there are probably still more tenors. Amado has put together an impressive string of albums. Burton's early work was on alto, then he seemed to vanish for a while, but he's bounced back as a sideman on tenor.
Some other missing tenor saxophonists: Chris Byars, Avram Fefer, Allen Lowe, Jonathan Moritz, Bryan Murray, Hilary Noble, Matt Parker, Adam Pieronczyk, Matt Renzi, Assif Tsahar, Rob Wagner.
Baritone Saxophone: Gebhard Ullman (5); Mats Gustafsson (3); Scott Robinson (2). First pass: Hamiet Bluiett, James Carter, Ronnie Cuber, Claire Daly, Vinny Golia, Alex Harding, Fred Ho, Brian Landrus, Gary Smulyan, John Surman. I originally had Landrus in 3rd place, but thought better of pushing a 35-year-old up -- he's talented, but also the field is weak, with not as many non-specialists as soprano sax but quite a few.
Rising Star Baritone Saxophone: Gebhard Ullmann (5); Brian Landrus (3); Josh Sinton (2). First pass: Charles Evans, Mikko Innanen, Adam Schroeder. Ullmann is 56, with a huge discography, but as long as he's stuck here I figure I might as well give him a shot at winning. Sinton has no records under his own name, but is key to three groups I like, the best known the Steve Lacy tribute band Ideal Bread.
Clarinet: Michael Moore (5); Ben Goldberg (3); Marty Ehrlich (2). First pass: Evan Christopher, Anat Cohen, Paquito D'Rivera, Eddie Daniels, Buddy DeFranco, Michel Portal, Perry Robinson, Ned Rothenberg, Louis Sclavis, Chris Speed, Gebhard Ullmann, Ken Vandermark, Bob Wilber. Moore and Ehrlich both started on alto sax but play quite a bit of clarinet and tend to get more noticed when they do.
Rising Star Clarinet: Michael Moore (5); Louis Sclavis (3); Mort Weiss (2). First pass: Darryl Harper, François Houle, Avram Fefer, David Krakauer, Rudi Mahall, Ned Rothenberg, Chris Speed. I initially figured Moore and Sclavis were too established (and around 60 too old) for here, but Weiss is older still, just started a lot later. Last year I voted for Ben Goldberg here, but he's only on the top ballot.
I thought Dave Bennett's latest record was very good.
Flute: Juhani Aaltonen (5), Lew Tabackin (3), Henry Threadgill (2). First pass: Robert Dick, Nicole Mitchell, Sam Most [RIP], James Newton, Dave Valentin, Frank Wess [RIP]. Two two are tenor saxophonists, but this category has always been won by tenor players (usually James Moody or Frank Wess). Threadgill normally plays alto sax, but spent most of his last record on flute -- unfortunately.
Rising Star Flute: Kali Z. Fasteau (5); Mark Weinstein (3); Idan Santhaus (2). First pass: Sam Most [RIP], James Newton. Fasteau is a different kind of ringer, one that plays exotic flutes, often made of wood, and they usually sound better than the concert instrument. Weinstein plays Latin jazz -- one of the few jazz places you can get away with flute. Santhaus had a good debut album, mostly as a big band arranger, but flute is his instrument.
The Downbeat poll always has a few major snafus in sorting out the Rising Star talent, but the Sam Most here is probably the furthest off base: his career peaked in the mid-1950s, with a minor comeback in the late-1970s and a couple 2008-12 records before he died at age 82 last year. (Downbeat notes that Frank Wess died, but not Most.)
Personally, I think they should get rid of the flute category -- move it under "miscellaneous instruments" (there are, after all, more good tuba players in jazz than flautists).
Piano: Irène Schweizer (5); Myra Melford (3); Marilyn Crispell (2). First pass: Geri Allen, Kenny Barron, George Cables, Uri Caine, Satoko Fujii, Fred Hersch, Abdullah Ibrahim, Ethan Iverson, Vijay Iyer, Ahmad Jamal, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Misha Mengelberg, Jason Moran, Enrico Pieranunzi, Renee Rosnes, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Matthew Shipp, Cecil Taylor, Chucho Valdes, Randy Weston. Way too many pianists to choose from, not that they even give you the choices. Last year I was so dissatisfied with their ballot I wrote three names in. Marilyn Crispell stuck on the ballot this year, but Irène Schweizer and Muhal Richard Abrams are still missing, so I doubled down on Schweizer. Aside from Abrams, some other distinguished names not on the ballot: Ran Blake, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Dave Burrell, Hal Galper, Vyacheslav Ganelin, Pandelis Karayorgis, Roger Kellaway, Joachim Kühn, Steve Kuhn, Howard Riley, Michele Rosewoman, Martial Solal, Keith Tippett, Albert Van Veenendaal, Yosuke Yamashita, Denny Zeitlin.
Rising Star Piano: Kris Davis (5); Albert Van Veenendaal (3); Nik Bärtsch (2). Van Veenendaal may be a little old for this, but hardly anyone has heard of him, and that's too bad: plays mostly prepared piano, gets marvelous sounds out of his instrument. First pass: Ehud Asherie, George Colligan, Benoit Delbecq, Orrin Evans, Tord Gustavsen, Russ Lossing, Aaron Parks, Peter Zak.
Some more names not on the ballot: Neil Cowley, Alexander Hawkins, Chris Hopkins, Michael McNeill, Harold O'Neal, Sergi Sirvent, Nobu Stowe, Håvard Wiik.
Electronic Keyboard: Matthew Shipp (5); Uri Caine (3); George Colligan (2). First pass: Nels Cline, John Medeski, Craig Taborn, Gary Versace, Bugge Wesseltoft. My impression is that electric keyboard use is back on the rise and is less tied to 1970s fusion clichés but I haven't sorted out who is doing what worthwhile stuff yet, nor do I much care. So I wound up voting for three very good pianists I missed above that dabble in keybs just enough to get on the ballot. Actually, Shipp has been strictly acoustical for years now, and Caine and Colligan only have specific electric projects. Few notable players play electric fully time, and John Medeski, for instance, could just as well play organ.
Rising Star Electronic Keyboard: Nik Bärtsch (5); George Colligan (3); Russ Lossing (2). First pass: Rob Mazurek, Bugge Wesseltoft. Again, Bärtsch (almost always) plays acoustic piano but in an electronic context (bass, synth drums). After that, plain good pianists, slumming. Not sure what kind of keyboard Mazurek plays, but he uses electronics on nearly all of his albums. It might be an improvement to rename this category Electronics to place less emphasis on the keyboard and open up more opportunities. Then Mazurek would be a valid candidate, as would Kieran Hebden, Fred Lonborg-Holm, Lasse Marhaug, and various others.
Organ: Gary Versace (5); John Medeski (3); Mike LeDonne (2). First pass: Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Goldings.
Rising Star Organ: Brian Charette (5); Alexander Hawkins (3); Vince Seneri (2). First pass: Wayne Peet. Surprisingly, I couldn't find anyone else, at least within the database. Could be if I scanned my reviews I'd locate a couple more names -- say, the organist in Ibrahim Electric -- but that won't make much difference. I'm surprised that organ jazz keeps lumbering along.
Violin: Jason Kao Hwang (5); Jenny Scheinman (3); Carlos Zingaro (2). First pass: Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Jeff Gauthier, Eyvind Kang, Didier Lockwood, Mat Maneri, Mary Oliver, Rob Thomas.
Rising Star Violin: Szilard Mezei (5); Eyvind Kang (3); Aaron Weinstein (2). First pass: Jeff Gauthier, Carla Kihlstedt, Didier Lockwood, Mary Oliver, Rob Thomas, Jesse Zubot. It occurs to me that one way to get a sense of a category's soundness is to measure the intersection between the main and Rising Star ballots: the more names in common, the weaker the category. I picked out six names on both ballots (and there are more: Susie Hansen, Diane Monroe, Mads Tolling), so this one is pretty weak (unfortunately, I don't have numbers for others, and most of my ballot has been sent away), but I think getting stronger. Only one of my six votes is on both ballots (Kang), and that actually makes some sense.
Worth noting here that several viola specialists (Maneri, Kang, Mezei) are grouped in with the violinists, much like cornet and flugelhorn players are grouped under trumpets. It would be helpful to make those associations explicit.
Guitar: Marc Ribot (5); Bill Frisell (3); Mary Halvorson (2). First pass: Rez Abbasi, John Abercrombie, Howard Alden, Peter Bernstein, Nels Cline, Jim Hall [RIP], Russell Malone, John McLaughlin, Joe Morris, Jeff Parker, Bucky Pizzarelli, James Blood Ulmer.
Rising Star Guitar: Raoul Björkenheim (5); Anders Nilsson (3); Jon Lundbom (2). First pass: Peter Bernstein, Liberty Ellman, Eric Hofbauer, Pete McCann, Michael Musillami, Jeff Parker, Jacob Young. For what it's worth, the two ballots here have six names in common (vs. 9 for violin; they are: Roni Ben-Hur, Peter Bernstein, Liberty Ellman, Ben Monder, Jeff Parker, Adam Rogers -- all b. 1962-71 [except Rodgers?], well established but not widely acclaimed, the sort who should be in the gap). There are more guitarists now than ever, and they are carving out more (and more interesting) niches.
There is a huge number of guitarists in my database. Scanning the post-2000 section, the following ballot omissions stand out: On Ka'a Davis, Scott DuBois, Terrie Ex, Nir Felder, Gordon Grdina, Jostein Gulbrandsen, Ross Hammond, Luis Lopes, Terrence McManus, Miles Okazaki, Mark O'Leary, Rich Rosenthal, Samo Salamon, Billy Stein, Johnny Valentino. I voted for Grdina last year and didn't note it as a write-in, so he seems to have fallen off the ballot.
Some older guitarists who arguably belong on one ballot or the other: Kenny Burrell, Philip Catherine, Joe Diorio, Pierre Dørge, Marc Ducret, Scott Fields, Marty Grosz, Billy Jenkins, Jim McAuley, Dom Minasi, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Doug Raney, Brad Shepik, Martin Taylor, Ralph Towner, Ulf Wakenius.
Bass: William Parker (5); John Hébert (3); Mark Helias (2). First pass: Ben Allison, Arild Andersen, Harrison Bankhead, Ron Carter, Avishai Cohen, Stephan Crump, Mark Dresser, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Michael Formanek, Drew Gress, Barry Guy, Charlie Haden [RIP], Dave Holland, Marc Johnson, Christian McBride, Gary Peacock, Eric Revis, Peter Washington, Reggie Workman.
Rising Star Bass: Ken Filiano (5); Adam Lane (3); Moppa Elliott (2). First pass: Arild Andersen, Pablo Aslan, Harrison Bankhead, Michael Bates, Carlos Bica, Avishai Cohen, Mark Dresser, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Barry Guy, Devin Hoff, Lisa Mezzacappa, Thomas Morgan, Eric Revis.
By the way, this is where my theory about category strength breaks down. Every band needs a bassist, so there are lots of jobs available, hence many really good bassists. However, both ballots share a long list of them (23: Joshua Abrams, Arild Andersen, Harrison Bankhead, Avishai Cohen, Greg Cohen, Mark Dresser, Kermit Driscoll, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, James Genus, Larry Grenadier, Drew Gress, Barry Guy, Darryl Hall, Robert Hurst, Mike Karn, Joelle Leandre, Francois Moutin, Matt Penman, Eric Revis, Reuben Rogers, Todd Sickafoose, Ben Williams). Moreover, you have such anomalies as Linda Oh and Esperanza Spalding only on the top ballot.
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow (5); Bob Cranshaw (3); Stomu Takeishi (2). First pass: Avishai Cohen, James Genus, John Patitucci.
Rising Star Electric Bass: Chris Morrissey (5); Nate McBride (3); Tommy Babin (2). First pass: Avishai Cohen, Bob Cranshaw, James Genus, Drew Gress, Skuli Sverrisson, Stomu Takeishi.
Drums: Andrew Cyrille (5); Gerry Hemingway (3); Gerald Cleaver (2). First pass: Barry Altschul, Scott Amendola, Joey Baron, Han Bennink, Jim Black, Jack DeJohnette, Hamid Drake, Billy Hart, John Hollenbeck, Dave King, Paul Lovens, Billy Martin, Lewis Nash, Paal Nilssen-Love, Bobby Previte, Bill Stewart, Nasheet Waits, Kenny Washington, Matt Wilson. Again, with so many great drummers, lots of ways you can play this. I voted for Han Bennink and Joey Baron last year, and there's no reason to think they've faded. Cleaver seems to have arrived as the guy everyone wants to play with. And Hemingway is very fresh in my mind, not that other circumstances couldn't swap him out with a half-dozen others -- Jim Black, Hamid Drake, Paul Lovens, Baron or Bennink. And while I was jotting down most of the ballot names, I see now that I skipped past Eric Harland, a young drummer everyone loves, and Roy Haynes, an old one who everyone reveres. And all this dances around Jack DeJohnette, who will probably win and who no one will begrudge.
I also thought about writing in Louis Moholo (again, he is fresh in my mind). Makes me wonder who else didn't get nominated? Sunny Murray, Tony Oxley, Tom Rainey, Ben Riley, Warren Smith; lot of younger folks, but the ballot covers the field fairly well (Moholo and Rainey are the big omissions).
Rising Star Drums: Tom Rainey (5); Tyshawn Sorey (3); Mike Reed (2). First pass: Scott Amendola, Tim Daisy, Joe Farnsworth, Tomas Fujiwara, Gerry Hemingway, Dave King, Allison Miller, Paal Nilssen-Love, Stefan Pasborg, Frank Rosaly, Chad Taylor. Let's fix the Rainey omission right away. Hemingway is way ahead of anyone else on the first pass list, but that's just Downbeat being sloppy: he's nearly 60, was a Rising Star back in the 1980s in Anthony Braxton's fabled quartet, and probably has close to 50 notable albums since, including a 4-CD reunion with Braxton called Old Dogs. I voted for Gerald Cleaver as Rising Star last year, and now he's moved on.
Vibes: Warren Smith (5); Kenny Wolleson (3); Joe Locke (2). First pass: Jason Adasiewicz, Bobby Hutcherson, Khan Jamal, Terry Gibbs, Mike Mainieri, Matt Moran, Steve Nelson, Kevin Norton. I've habitually voted for Locke for many years, but it's been a long time since he's come up with a really good record.
Rising Star Vibes: Matt Moran (5); Mulatu Astatke (3); Bryan Carrott (2). First pass: Karl Berger, Gunter Hampel, Kevin Norton, Warren Smith, Mark Sherman. Massive overlap here, again suggesting a short list of talent. I've complained in the past about them listing Khan Jamal here -- a great musician, of course, but 67 and not very active -- so I note that he's finally only on the overall list. But Karl Berger is still here, and he's more than a decade older (78 or 79). Hampel, by the way, is only two years younger. Astatke is in his 70s too, his invention of "Ethio jazz" dating back to 1969-74 (the dates of his Éthiopiques compilation), but it's easier to see why he's a belated discovery.
Percussion: Han Bennink (5); Hamid Drake (3); Marilyn Mazur (2). First pass: Mino Cinelu, Kahil El'Zabar, Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, Susie Ibarra, Lukas Ligeti, Adam Rudolph, Warren Smith, Takoshi Takeishi, Dan Weiss, Michael Zerang. Category has traditionally belonged to Latin congaleros like Ray Barretto, but only Poncho Sanchez remains among the contenders, so it's tempting to vote for drummers who missed out there but style themselves as something more -- especially when they make good on that promise.
Rising Star Percussion: Kevin Diehl (5); Harris Eisenstadt (3); Ravish Momin (2). First pass: Lukas Ligeti, Andi Pupato, Warren Smith, Satoshi Takeishi, Michael Zerang. Diehl is the leader of Sonic Liberation Front -- plays bata drums, studied under Sunny Murray as well as the Cuban Yorubas.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Bob Stewart (tuba) (5); David Murray (bass clarinet) (3); Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet) (2). First pass: Rabih Abou Khalil (oud), Ralph Carney (slide clarinet), Edmar Castaneda (Colombian harp), Joseph Daley (tuba), Erik Friedlander (cello), Richard Galliano (accordion), Ben Goldberg (contra alto clarinet), Howard Johnson (tuba), Guy Klucevsek (accordion), Peggy Lee (cello), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Grégoire Maret (harmonica), Ernst Reijseger (cello), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Colin Stetson (bass sax), Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet), Gary Versace (accordion). I don't see much point in trying to research around the ballot although there are probably many other alternatives. Some instruments might be better merged with allied instruments (e.g., bass clarinet with clarinet). Accordion/bandoneon, cello, and tuba would be better categories than flute or electric bass -- they'd suffer from similarly limited player lists but at least are more fun to listen to.
Rising Star Miscellaneous Instrument: Colin Stetson (bass saxophone) (5); Andrea Parkins (accordion) (3); Cooper-Moore (diddley-bow) (2). First pass: Okkyung Lee (cello), Peggy Lee (cello), Ernst Reijseger (cello), Marcus Rojas (tuba). Ballot here is really a mess, leaning very hard on cello and tuba, duplicating main ballot nominees almost arbitrarily. I'm sure if I spent a day researching I'd come up with something completely different, but it wouldn't be easy, and all the apples-and-oranges comps are at best of marginal value.
I've written in Cooper-Moore (a fabulous pianist, by the way) before. Based on age (67) he should be past Rising Star, but he hasn't recorded much and few people are familiar with his work.
Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole (5); James Blood Ulmer (3); Giacomo Gates (2). First pass: Mose Allison, Theo Bleckmann, Bob Dorough. Last year I got so disgusted with the choices I wrote in Van Morrison, who has a real feel for jazz and a voice that puts everyone else on the list to shame. The fact is that most good male singers don't go into jazz, leaving us with poseurs like Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter. These days I'm not even enjoying Theo Bleckmann much.
Rising Star Male Vocalist: Jamie Davis (5); Mark Winkler (3), Ku-umba Frank Lacy (2). First pass: Ed Reed, Frank Senior. You know you're in trouble when trombonist Lacy starts looking good. Ballot still lists Bill Henderson, 83 now, and Ed Reed is a year older than that, but has the excuse of getting a very late start.
Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan (5); Barbara Morrison (3); Fay Victor (2). First pass: Patricia Barber, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jay Clayton, Leena Conquest, Meredith D'Ambrosio, Lorraine Feather, Roberta Gambarini, Stacey Kent, Diana Krall, René Marie, Dianne Reeves, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Cassandra Wilson. Morrison had the year's best record, by a huge margin. Cécile McLorin Salvant, who swept the polls with her second album, is prematurely on the list. There are a bunch of women here I don't much care for, but their percentage isn't nearly as high as with the men.
Rising Star Female Vocalist: Catherine Russell (5); Lisa Sokolov (3); Yaala Ballin (2). First pass: Amy Allison, Fay Claassen, Lorraine Feather, Champian Fulton, Nellie McKay, Nicki Parrott, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Fay Victor, Andrea Wolper. I voted for Victor above. Sokolov should be moved up: she's 59, but doesn't record much (nothing since 2009). Russell's new album won me over, but she's been good for a while.
This is about the point where I get bored and try to rush. I really think very little about composing and arranging.
Composer: Ornette Coleman (5); Wayne Shorter (3); John Zorn (2). First pass: Ben Allison, Carla Bley, Moppa Elliott, Jimmy Heath, Dave Holland, John Hollenbeck, Steve Lehman, Ted Nash, Henry Threadgill. Took a different approach this year. Admittedly, the Coleman and Shorter compositions that are so widely played these days are many decades old, but who else has standards like that? Zorn at least makes an effort to get other people to play his tunes (but unfortunately he pulled all his records from Rhapsody so I don't get to hear them anymore).
Rising Star Composer: Moppa Elliott (5); Adam Lane (3); Anthony Branker (2). First pass: Ben Allison, Steve Lehman, Mike Reed, Marcus Shelby, Tyshawn Sorey, Howard Wiley. With no one writing obvious standards these days, I look for bassists, drummers, and non-players.
Arranger: Steven Bernstein (5); Misha Mengelberg (3); Carla Bley (2). First pass: Ben Allison, Darcy James Argue, William Parker, Gerald Wilson. Helps to have a big band handy here.
Rising Star Arranger: David Weiss (5); Michael Bates (3); Marcus Shelby (2). First pass: Uri Caine, Ryan Truesdell.
Record Label: Clean Feed (5); No Business (3); HighNote (2). First pass: Arbors, Cuneiform, ECM, Fresh Sound, Intakt, Pi, Sunnyside, Thirsty Ear, TUM, Tzadik. This is where a critics gets to separate friends from foes, although for the record, I only get service reliably from 5 of 13 labels here (erratically from 3 more, and those are last year's numbers -- this year's are dropping). On the other hand, I voted for three of those 5, so sue me. For what it's worth, Pi has the highest odds of producing a very good album, and TUM has the best packaging. Also, as heroic as some of these labels are, most are declining.
Producer: Joe Fields (5); John Zorn (3); Don Was (2). First pass: Orrin Keepnews, Manfred Eicher, Neils Winther. My impression is that most records are produced either by a small label head (Fields, Zorn, Eicher, and Winther all count there) or by a fellow musician -- in any case, it's very rare to find a celebrity jazz producer like Keepnews (and obviously he did his best work a half-century ago).
Rising Star Producer: John Corbett (5); Taylor Ho Bynum (3); Marc Free (2). First pass: John Hollenbeck, Bruno Johnson, Seth Rosner/Yulun Wang. Most striking thing here is that I don't see any reason why a give producer is on this or the other ballot.
Blues Artist or Group: Maria Muldaur (5); James Blood Ulmer (3); Eric Bibb. First pass: Marcia Ball, Lurrie Bell, Sue Foley, Corey Harris, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Otis Taylor. I wrote Muldaur in last year. Decided to move her up a notch this year.
No Blues Artist Rising Star? At this point that's probably a blessing.
Blues Album (April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014): Lurrie Bell, Blues in My Soul (Delmark) (5); Cyril Neville, Magic Honey (Ruf) (3); The Danny Petroni Blue Project: The Blue Project (DPS) (2). Tough to come up with three: only the first is an A-.
Other records on the ballot that I've heard (4 + 2 above):
Records on the ballot that I haven't heard (36):
Beyond Artist of Group: The Roots (5); Merle Haggard (3); Neil Young & Crazy Horse (2). First pass: Arcade Fire, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leonard Cohen, Ry Cooder, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Donald Fagen, Aretha Franklin, Cee-Lo Green, Nellie McKay, Janelle Monáe, Frank Ocean, Raphael Saadiq, Richard Thompson, Tin Hat, Tinariwen, Kanye West. Of course, their sense of "beyond" is pretty limited -- as will become more clear with the albums.
Beyond Album (April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014): Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City (XL) (5); Janelle Monáe, Electric Lady (Bad Boy) (3); Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap (mixtape) (2). Needless to say, I'm just picking from their ballot here, and that doesn't go very far beyond jazz. For my own non-jazz EOY list, look here. The first three picks here -- MIA, The Uncluded, and Rachid Taha -- are not only better than these three, they're much further out. Vampire Weekend came in 9th, Monáe 12th, and Chance the Rapper 14th.
Other records on the ballot that I've heard (28 + 3 above):
Records on the ballot that I haven't heard (21):