Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Stealth" world music albums among the Grammy jazz nominees

Note: Links below will enable you to hear musical samples from the Grammy nominees.

In an earlier post previewing the contenders for Grammy Awards in the two World Music categories, I noted that nominees in other categories as well may have some "world music" connection. With mischief aforethought, I'm calling such musicians "stealth" artists, and will do as complete a rundown as possible to show the extent of world music's enrichment of entries in a variety of categories throughout the Grammy Fields.

Among the five nominees for the prestigious Record of the Year (Number One among the 109 official Categories) was the Sri-Lankan-born rapper Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam; she goes by the sobriquet M.I.A., and as previously noted here performed (fully pregnant) in the Awards ceremony itself. Her entry was "Paper Planes", and although she did not win a Grammy, I'll be doing a more extensive piece on her at some point in the near future, in order to explore her fascinating international background, and some of the intriguing ways she has adapted South Asian elements and content into her artistry.

Moving down through the Fields, we come next to the single-Category Field, New Age, which without careful scrutiny seems this year to have no significant world music element,. From there we move on to the Jazz Field, with its five Categories, including Latin Jazz, which I'll not discuss here since it is a relatively mainstream part of the American jazz scene. In the first Category, Contemporary Jazz Album, two of the nominated works involve elements of both western jazz and Indian music. The first, on Abstract Logix, is "Floating Point", recorded in India by guitarist John McLaughlin, who has had numerous collaborations with Indian musicians in the past, particularly with his group Shakti.

The second is "Miles from India", a 2-CD compilation with "various Artists, [and] Bob Belden, Producer, [on] 4Q/Times Square Records." A listening to sample tracks on the latter reveals a richly Indian influence (including not only sitar, sarod, sarangi, and tabla instrumentation, but Indian vocal stylings as well), in a collective tribute to the late and legendary trumpet master Miles Davis by some of his surviving colleagues, since Davis' music, like that of the late saxophone genius John Coltrane, had its share of Indian influences. But because I don't currently have access to either recording, both of which sound very good in excerpted samples, I'll pass over them now in hopes of discussing both at length once I can obtain copies.

But (drum roll . . . . . ) the 2009 winner in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category is "Randy in Brasil," by Blood, Sweat, and Tears alumnus Randy Brecker on MAMA Records. Like McLaughlin, Becker chose to record collaborations with musicians outside the U.S.--in this case in Brazil, which in several waves over the last fifty years has greatly influenced American jazz and dance music with such popular genres as the bossa nova and samba. An informed review of this album can be found in the excellent online publication, AllABoutJazz, and samples heard at

Although not the winner, a nominee in the next category, Best Vocal Album, was another release with a strong Brazilian influence: "Imagina: Songs of Brasil", on Concord Jazz, by three-time Grammy nominee Karrin Allyson. Though recorded entirely in the U.S. with American musicians, she sings a number of songs in Portuguese by the masterful Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as others by his countryman. There is a useful review, again on AllAboutJazz, and samples of her music can be heard on the artist's own Website.

In short, as for the continuously expanding influence of world music, it is interesting to note that four out of the eight nominated albums in the first two jazz categories explore international musical dimensions, this year via India and Brazil.

More to come in later postings with further examples of "stealth" world music identity, if not incursions, in traditional Latino genres, Native American and Hawaiian music, the Louisiana-born Zydeco, Reggae, Polka, and Classical, among others. I'll be traveling, with unlikely Internet connectivity, in the days following, so do stand by until the middle of next week.

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