62nd Grammy Nominations Viewed Through an Echoes Prism.
by John Diliberto 11/20/2019
Grammy Awards Echoes Style
The Grammy Award nominees were announced thie morning November 20, 2019, and it’s another interesting year, but fortunately, not a WTF year. You’d think the Grammy’s were far outside the Echoes zone and in many ways, they are. But I do perceive it as measurement as to what Echoes artists manage to pop through into the broader consciousness, or at least, the consciousness of Grammy votes which are comprised of musicians and music industry people.
Some of our favorite artists wind up in what I’d call off-categories like Contemporary Instrumental Music, New Age and Dance/Electronic Music. But this year an Echoes artist is in the Album of the Year and Song of the Year categories, Lana Del Rey. Her Norman Fucking Rockwell album was the Echoes November CD of the Month. She’s against a strong slate that includes breakout albums from Billie Eilish and Lizzo. Her producer, Jack Antonoff is also nominated as Producer of the Year.
For us the New Age category is where most Echoes artists turn up and this year, all the artists nominated have been played on Echoes. David Arkenstone, David Darling, Peter Kater, Sebastian Plano, and Deva Premal have all been on the show many times.
Arkenstone released three albums this past year. Two of them were marketing albums, Desert Spa and Pure Sleep. I call these functional albums, designed for a specific purpose with a particular market in mind which you can gather from the titles. The one that got nominated was Fairy Dreams. This is in Arkenstone’s fantasy orchestral mode. It’s not my favorite Arkenstone style but as one of the most talented musicians in the field, he’s skilled at creating those fanciful, if often saccharine moods.
Peter Kater seems to have a spot reserved for him in the Grammy nominations. This is the pianist’s 14th time making a go at a Grammy in 15 years. Extraordinary. He won in 2018 for Dancing on Water. Wings is in his typical solo piano mode of rhapsodic playing, but was much sweeter and even more rhapsodically romantic than many of his previous albums.
Singer Deva Premal takes the Grammy plunge for the first time. She’s a singer of Kirtan chants who has occasionally had more crossover appeal, which she gets on Deva with expanded instrumentation and arrangements from producer Joby Baker who plays all kinds of keyboards and percussion to take her music beyond the straight chant mode.
The slight wild card this year is Sebastian Plano. We’ve been playing the Argentinian-born musician since his solo debut in 2013, Arrhythmical Part of Hearts, which was an Echoes CD of the Month that year. Somehow he wound up on a major label this year who neglected to send us the album, Mercury KX, We would’ve definitely played it. It picks up on the neo-classical, ambient chamber music themes of his debut, but moves deeper into ambient moods. It’s worth noting that Plano is the only artist in this category to have begun recording in the 21st century.
Finally, there’s David Darling, the virtuoso cellist with a history that includes stints with the Paul Winter Consort, scores of ECM records including duet projects with guitarist Terje Rypdal and pianist Ketil Bjørnstad. He’s also a pioneer of ambient chamber music with albums like 8-String Religion and Cello Blue. He won a Grammy in 2010 for A Prayer for Compassion. His latest, Homage to Kindness follows in that mode with lush compositions singed by his arcing cello melodies.
There are other recordings I could’ve picked this year. Just looking over our CD of the Month picks for the Grammy eligible period I would’ve selected recordings by Hammock, Aukai, Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy, Kevin Keller, California Guitar Trio & Montreal Guitar Trio, Massergy, Desert Dwellers, David Pritchard, Hugar and Azam Ali in this and a few other categories. That said, this is one of the few years I haven’t had to go apoplectic about some nominee out of nowhere, with no name recognition or presence and with truly crappy music.
I’ve always thought Echoes artists might wind up in the Dance/Electronic category, mainly for the electronic part of that equation, but that has rarely been born out. But this year
Tycho got in there with his album, Weather, a stylistic change that features vocals from Saint Sinner on about half the album.
(Check out our interview with Tycho and Saint Sinner in the Echoes Podcast.)
The Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category was formerly a haven for smooth jazz, but over the last 2-3 years those artists have been kicked out. There are a few cross-over jazz artists in there like Lettuce and Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, but their albums are supercharged fusions. But sitting at the bottom of the list is the heavy metal Nuevo flamenco guitar duo, Rodrigo y Gabriella with their album Mettavolution which includes a 22 minute take in full of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.”
Another category that has been good to Echoes artists is Best Alternative Music. This year it’s got a few in there including Bon Iver, an artist who we’ve played often on the show. But I found his latest, I.I, unlistenable. Big Thief pops in with the U.F.O.F an album we played for its chilled folk inflected sound. We’ve also played James Blake, but I found his Assume Form to be somnambulant, which you couldn’t’ say for Thom Yorke’s quirky, electronic based foray, Anima. That’ album also nominated in the Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package and Best Music Film categories. Additionally, Yorke also shows up in the Best Song Written for Visual Media with a track from his score to Suspiria.
Finally, a nice collection shows up in the Best Historical Album category, Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990. You can hear the roots of some of the music we play on Echoes.
Most people I know who listen to the music we play, as well as all my jazz and progressive rock friends think the Grammy’s are bullshit. And I can’t disagree with them as a measurement of artistic merit. But as a calculus of impact, it can’t be totally dismissed. And wouldn’t it be amusing to have the first Grammy winning album with Fuck in the title?