Molly Johnson and Larnell Lewis ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Vocalist Molly Johnson and drummer Larnell Lewis are separately nominated for JUNO Awards in 2019 ©Brett Delmage, 2013

March 16, 2019: Read the list of the 2019 JUNO Awards winners, in jazz-related categories.

Jazz fans will recognize many of the names in the 2019 JUNO Award nominees – but also see more than a few surprises.

What you might not have expected: vocalist and CBC broadcaster Laila Biali is featured on two albums nominated in the same category. Jazz pianist David Braid is recognized for a classical choral piece. Vocalist Molly Johnson is deemed Adult Contemporary rather than jazz. Andrew Rathbun's large-scale celebration of Margaret Atwood's poetry gets a nod. A viola d'amore/baritone sax female duo from Montreal is selected for their avant-garde CD.

Less surprising: crooner Michael Bublé is up for Artist of the Year, among other nominations.

In the Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, all the nominees have previously won multiple JUNOs. Diana Krall's collaboration with Tony Bennett will compete against Holly Cole's first studio album in five years, and Diana Panton's celebration of the changing seasons. Each of those albums features primarily jazz standards.

The category wraps up with two albums featuring Laila Biali and original music. The first is Biali's self-titled album of her own material with a jazz edge. The second is an album by Vancouver bassist Jodi Proznick, in which Proznick examines the polarities of life from birth to death in her compositions; the tunes are performed by an accomplished Vancouver quartet with Biali on vocals.

In the Jazz Album: Solo category, Toronto musicians dominate, but the category is split between previous winners and first-time nominees. A four-time NYC-based JUNO winner, pianist Renee Rosnes, is nominated for an album with a deep connection to Canada's west coast, whose title is inspired by a well-known painting by Emily Carr, and which features saxophonist Chris Potter and vibraphonist Steve Nelson. Pianist Robi Botos, whose previous album won a JUNO in 2016, returns with regulars Mike Downes, Larnell Lewis, and Seamus Blake in an album with touches of funk, soul, and gospel, which pays homage to his homeland of Hungary and his childhood neighbourhoods.

The first-time nominees are even more interesting. Trumpeter Alexis Baro, who was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, and played with vocalist Omara Portuondo in Cuba and Archie Alleyne's hard-bop band Kollage in Toronto, has released a vivid album featuring Canadian and Cuban musicians. The album is inspired by seeing people live together in a big city, and “attempts to reflect his reverence for the fusion of different culture's harmoniously living together while overcoming their own obstacles in a sometimes hostile urban environment.” It includes nine originals plus the traditional Latin American lullaby Drume Negrita, and a cover of The Beatles’ Come Together.

Saxophonist Alison Young is nominated for her first album, which exemplifies her love of “post bop, soul, and New Orleans-style funk”, and features a quintet of Toronto musicians she's been playing with since 2012.

Toronto drummer Larnell Lewis is featured on Baro's and Botos' album – and is nominated himself for his debut CD as leader. Lewis is heard in many Toronto jazz groups, but is best known for his work with Snarky Puppy. His album of strongly grooving originals explores his “deep connection to jazz, fusion, and his Afro-Caribbean roots” and includes performances by Botos and by two members of Snarky Puppy.

The Jazz Album: Group category has a wide range of sounds, from the accomplished mainstream sound of saxophonists Mike Murley and Dave Liebman, to the chamber jazz of Quinsin Nachoff's FLUX.

This year, Toronto saxophonist Allison Au has received her third JUNO nomination in three albums for Wander Wonder. It's a sometimes-dreamy, sometimes-upbeat collection of her expressive originals demonstrating the deep accord within her quartet.

Toronto jazz stalwart Mike Murley has won two JUNOs for his trio albums, three with his band Metalwood, and one last year with The North quartet with David Braid. He's also a professor at the University of Toronto, where American saxophonist Dave Liebman is a regular visiting artist. In June, 2017, Murley, Liebman, bassist Jim Vivian, and drummer Terry Clarke played a live show at the university, which was recorded for their nominated album – the second time Murley and Liebman have collaborated on a CD. It's a powerful ensemble recording of mostly originals by Liebman, Murley, and Vivian: what one review described as an “old-fashioned visceral blowing session”.

Saxophonist and bandleader Andrew Rathbun is nominated for his jazz orchestra's recording of The Atwood Suites: three dramatic multi-part suites he composed based on Margaret Atwood's poetry. The recording features his 18-piece ensemble, including trumpeter Tim Hagans and drummer Bill Stewart, plus vocalists Luciana Souza and Aubrey Johnson. From Toronto, Rathbun played for many years in NYC and now teaches in Michigan.

Quinsin Nachoff ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Quinsin Nachoff (l) presented several of his FLUX compositions with an Ottawa ensemble including Keith Hartshorn-Walton at the JUNOFest concerts in Ottawa in 2017 ©Brett Delmage, 2017

This is Quinsin Nachoff's second nomination for his group FLUX, with three acclaimed NYC musicians. Path of Totality was inspired by the eclipse of the sun in 2017, and its reminder of “light’s assured emanation from and triumph over transitory darkness”. It melds jazz and classical music with many vintage electro-acoustic instruments.

Andy Milne's Dapp Theory is a quintet that combines “lyrical jazz piano, funkified polyrhythmic exploration, and spoken word poeticism” in a highly spiritual process. Milne, a pianist and composer originally from Toronto and for the last two decades in NYC, has played with the musicians in Dapp Theory for many years; in The Seasons of Being, his aim is to create an “optimized environment for improvisation” for them and five guest artists including guitarist Ben Monder.

The Instrumental Album category contains three jazz and improvised-music nominees, along with two folk-related albums. The most mainstream – or maybe off-the-wall – is by guitarist Kevin Breit, who will appear at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival in February. He gets together with a band of musical mischief makers to pay “tribute to a mythical crew with a sly humor dancing on the frets” in his Johnny Goldtooth and The Chevy Casanovas record.

More in the IMOO vein is the first solo album by Vancouver guitarist/oud player Gord Grdina. Grdina has appeared many times in Ottawa in collaborations whose styles range from classical Arabic music to the avant-garde. This solo album was recorded during a number of intimate and completely-improvised solo performances at the Vancouver underground art space China Cloud. It features him playing both acoustic and electric guitar and oud, as well as improvising with tape loops, effects, and percussion, and even singing on one number.

Particularly interesting is the duo release, The Space Between Us, from two Montreal-based female improvisors, Ida Toninato on baritone sax and Jennifer Thiessen on viola d'amore. Their release on the avant-garde label Ambiances Magnétiques continues their ongoing dynamic conversation in sound – “unconcerned with genre, scene or definition”. Their instruments have “opposing idiomatic timbres and tendencies, provides fascinating material for creative debate and surprising agreement.” The two musicians perform contemporary, classical, improvised, pop and baroque musics, and performed the music from The Space Between Us live in Ottawa last August; it was also a finalist for the Album of the Year in Quebec's Opus Awards.

Vocalist Molly Johnson is nominated in the Adult Contemporary Album category for Meaning to Tell Ya, a soulful and jazzy album of originals and a few covers, all with a strongly supportive and upbeat feel celebrating life and the people who make it better. With strong performances by her long-time quartet of Botos, bassist Mike Downes, and drummer Davide DiRenzo, Johnson says it's an album designed to let listeners see themselves in the stories told in each tune. One of its songs is called “Protest Song”; another, “Stop”, affirms life as an antidote to despair; and her cover of Gil Scott-Heron's “Lady Day And John Coltrane” not only links back to her previous Billie Holiday tribute album, but is designed to “wash your troubles away.”

Toronto jazz pianist David Braid has been regularly collaborating with chamber ensembles in the last few years, with large-scale pieces combining improvisation and composition. His Corona Divinae Misericordiae, though, is strictly classical: a new oratorio blending medieval and contemporary sacred music. Nominated in the Classical Album: Vocal or Choral category, it features classical heavyweights the Epoque Chamber Orchestra, the Elmer Iseler Singers, and the Sinfonia UK Collective, and classical/pop/jazz vocalist Patricia O’Callaghan. It includes Braid's settings of Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and Credo.

Crooner Michael Bublé is nominated in several categories for Love, a collection of mostly jazz standards as well as a few pop ballads.

The 2019 JUNO jazz nominations are again dominated by Toronto musicians, plus a few from New York City and Vancouver. No Montreal, Prairie, or Atlantic albums were nominated this year in the three jazz categories. Ex-pat Canadians were also notable, though not as much as previous years: three (Rosnes, Milne, and Rathbun) who live exclusively out of Canada, and several others (Krall, Nachoff) who split their time between the U.S. and Canada. Two of the albums (Murley/Liebman and Krall/Bennett) were collaborations with U.S. musicians.

Women and men split the 2019 jazz nominations, with seven albums led by women, seven by men, and one joint project being proposed. This was close to the 2017 numbers. On the other hand, in 2018 there were double the number of male nominees as female.

Alison Young, who was raised in Ottawa but has been part of Toronto's jazz scene for almost two decades, was the only musician with Ottawa links nominated for jazz-related JUNOs this year. Young played in the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, and was in the National Youth Jazz Ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2001 and 2002; in 2001, she was the second recipient of the Vernon Isaac Memorial Scholarship.

The JUNO Awards will be announced on March 16 and 17 in London, Ontario.

2019 JUNO Award nominations in jazz and related categories:

(from the official list at junoawards.ca)

Vocal Jazz Album of the Year

  • Diana Krall & Tony Bennett: Love Is Here To Stay [Vancouver/US]
  • Diana Panton: solstice/equinox [Hamilton]
  • Holly Cole: Holly [Toronto]
  • Jodi Proznick ft. Laila Biali: Sun Songs [Vancouver/Toronto]
  • Laila Biali: Laila Biali [Toronto]

Jazz Album of the Year: Solo

  • Alexis Baro: Sandstorm [Toronto]
  • Alison Young: So Here We Are [Toronto]
  • Larnell Lewis: In the Moment [Toronto]
  • Renee Rosnes: Beloved of the Sky [NYC]
  • Robi Botos: Old Soul [Toronto]

Jazz Album of the Year: Group

  • Allison Au Quartet: Wander Wonder [Toronto]
  • Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble: Atwood Suites [Kalamazoo, Michigan]
  • Andy Milne & Dapp Theory: The Seasons of Being [NYC]
  • Liebman/Murley Quartet: Live at U of T [Toronto/ NYC]
  • Quinsin Nachoff's FLUX: Path of Totality [Toronto/ NYC]

Instrumental Album of the Year

  • Gordon Grdina: China Cloud [Vancouver]
  • Kevin Breit: Johnny Goldtooth and The Chevy Casanovas [Toronto]
  • Toninato / Thiessen: The Space Between Us [Montreal]

Artist of the Year

  • Michael Bublé [Vancouver, Los Angeles]

Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral

  • David Braid: Corona Divinae Misericordiae with the Elmer Iseler Singers featuring Patricia O’Callaghan [Toronto]

Jack Richardson Producer of the Year

  • “My Funny Valentine”, “Where or When” (co-producer Jochem van der Saag) LOVE – Michael Bublé David Foster and Michael Bublé [Vancouver, Los Angeles]

Adult Contemporary Album of the Year

  • Michael Bublé: Love [Vancouver, Los Angeles]
  • Molly Johnson: Meaning To Tell Ya [Toronto]

Read related stories on OttawaJazzScene.ca:

March 5: Corrected the spelling of Ida Toninato's name