The nominations for Canada’s main music awards, the JUNOs, held every year since 1971, were announced last week. The winners will be announced at the awards bash in Calgary on April 3rd.
We asked a former winner who is close to the jazz scene to help explain more about some of this year’s nominees.
MIKE RUD is a guitarist, songwriter and singer whose fourth album “Notes from Montreal” (reviewed), a superb collection of songs brim-full of affection for his adoptive city, won the prize in the Jazz/Vocal category in 2014. His latest album Miniatures was released in November 2015.
There are four jazz categories, and Mike has chosen to write about “musicians I’ve been touched and impressed by. I’ve lived all over this country, just about, and many of this year’s nominees were familiar to me; it’s great to see them recognized. Here are three whose work stands out to me. These aren’t my ‘picks’ to win.”
“What really took me by surprise this year,” writes Mike Rud, “is just how many nominees were unknown to me! The scene in Canada has exploded. It’s a good time for jazz here!”
A full list of the nominees in each category is also given. Mike Rud writes:
1) Nominee for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year: Clear Day – Emilie-Claire Barlow with the Metropol Orkest
Emilie-Claire Barlow is a crisp, unique voice whose band often features some personal heroes of mine. Bassist Jon Maharaj was someone I met at frequent Toronto shows I’ve done with pianist David Braid. No matter who he plays with, he supports them gorgeously and precisely. Saxophonist Kelly Jefferson is in this band as well. He and I go waaayyyy back. Kelly is just a sublime improviser, right-there-with-you-in-the-moment, and with a pocket a mile wide. I’m impressed by both Emilie’s singing, and her impeccable lineup of musicians.
But being a Canadian guitarist, I have to single out Reg Schwager, who also plays with Emilie. Every guitarist in this country knows about Reg. He played a lot of prestigious gigs at a pretty early age, and when you hear him, you’ll know why. I can’t think of a more refined, collected guitar player.
Reg is also featured on Montreal vocalist Susie Arioli’s excellent new CD “Spring,” which I really wish had also picked up a nomination. Susie is unforgettable.
Other Nominations for Jazz / Vocal
New -Alex Pangman
Live from the Cellar – Dan Brubeck Quartet
This Bitter Earth – Jaclyn Guillou
Some Version of the Truth – Tara Kannangara
o – o – o – o
2) Nominee for Jazz Album of the Year/ SOLO: Al Muirhead: It’s About Time
I live in Montreal, but originally I’m from Edmonton Alberta, in Canada’s Western prairies. Trumpetist and bandleader Al Muirhead was a figure whose name I grew up hearing. Al is from Calgary, though, so we never met. Finally this fall I got to go down the highway to a Calgary studio and play an afternoon of music with him. What a fluid, buoyant and lively player. So relaxed at the same time. I’m so excited that he’s been recognized, and along with him, pianist Tommy Banks and saxophonist PJ Perry.
Tommy has been a TV personality, big band leader, conductor and a Canadian Senator! His piano playing, and particularly his accompaniment, is nonpareil, simply incredible. He even knows the verses to all the old tunes. Tommy is an idol to all of us from Western Canada, which is why I was tickled pink when he wrote the liner notes for my 2015 solo CD, Miniatures.
PJ Perry meanwhile, is also particularly important to those of us from the Western provinces. He *always* brings his utter best to each performance. It’s so very intense, the focus he puts into every phrase. He’s from the old school. Also renowned for his clarinet doubling and reading. Just as a natural a musician as ever there was. I remember a version of Laura he played with strings years ago in Edmonton, and still get a chill.
Other Nominations for Jazz/Solo
Dialectics– Curtis Nowosad
Abeng – Rich Brown
Movin’ Forward – Robi Botos
Duets – Tara Davidson
o – o – o – o
3) Nominee for Instrumental Album of the Year: Lost Voices – Esmerine
Bruce Cawdron, my last room-mate in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, was out of town a lot. Partially this was because of his work with the band Esmerine. At 2014’s Juno awards in Winnipeg, he was seated at the next table over from me! He came over and said hi, 2000 miles away from the apartment we shared in Montreal. I hadn’t seen him in some time, and I handed him the rental increase letter that had just come from our landlord that week. A few minutes later, he won the first Juno given out that night, for Instrumental Album of the Year.
They’re up again this year! It’s really moody, creative stuff, featuring some really lovely writing. Bruce is a tremendously accomplished marimba player, and Esmerine’s music needs to be heard rather than described.
Other nominees – Instrumental Album of the Year
Spin Cycle – Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid
Never Were The Way She Was – Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld
Orchestral Powwow – Cris Derksen
Legacy Live – Jens Lindemann and Tommy Banks
o – o – o – o
Nominees for Jazz Album of the Year – Group
Forest Grove – Allison Au Quartet
Over My Head – Brad Turner Quartet
What I Hear Now – Jerry Granelli Trio
Stealing From My Youth – Mark Kelso & The Jazz Exiles
Sheer Tyranny of Will – Peripheral Vision