Talking Jazz

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The Independent Culture

One of those on the jazz short list, however, has been the subject of excited articles. Madeleine Peyroux got herself onto the news pages by performing one of her disappearing acts. She was in the UK to promote her beguiling album, Careless Love, when she seemingly vanished - only to turn up in New York within days. (She has form in such matters.) I leave it to the reader to judge whether public interest in her whereabouts was due to her being signed in a megabucks deal to a behemoth of the recording industry, Universal; or to the fact that her eerie vocal resemblance to Billie Holiday and classy backing band have gained her plaudits from the critics. But we jazzers are grateful for the concern, and Peyroux fully deserves her place on the Mobo short list, not least because she is a singer who falls clearly within the jazz tradition.

Above two other short-listed singers hang question marks. Lizz Wright is very open about her gospel influences, and Rhian Benson is the type of musician who is described as "jazz-infused" or "defying categorisation". Well, we are in the business of categories here, and it would be much appreciated if the jazz award went to a bona fide jazz musician.

And on the subject of singers, three vocalists out of five candidates is far too many for any jazz short list. I don't know who is on the academy which draws up the short lists for the Mobos, but you wouldn't get the jury that performs the same service for the BBC Jazz Awards, on which I am privileged to serve, implicitly suggesting that singers are the dominant force in the music. They aren't, however much the record companies, who find singers so much easier to market, try to say that they are.

This brings us to the last two who, happily, are UK-based andprimarily instrumentalists, although both are adept at using their pipes as well. First, Soweto Kinch. Now, this is a bit odd. This column has oft expressed its admiration for the young alto saxophonist, the winner of this award in 2003, when his debut album, Conversations with the Unseen, came out. Kinch has done sterling work since, but why is he on this year's shortlist?

If the award's purpose is just to recognise great jazz musicians, then there would be no reason for Guy Barker, say, or Sonny Rollins, not to appear on it annually. And it would have to be a very long shortlist indeed, subject only to the depredations of the grim reaper.

This is not to say that I wouldn't be very pleased for Kinch to bring home another gong. But it is his frequent musical collaborator, the New Orleans-born trumpeter Abram Wilson, I will be rooting for.

Wilson bided his time when every second horn player in his home town was being offered record deals on the back of the Young Lions phenomenon. His first album, Jazz Warrior, which came out at the end of last year, fully repaid the wait: vibrant, confident and just damn exciting. Nods to all sorts of music of black origin are there - New Orleans jazz, bebop, rap, soul - and not only is Wilson a first-class trumpeter; he's extremely accomplished at singing, rapping and scatting too.

We are honoured that Wilson has chosen to make his home here. If there is any justice, this will be his year. He would also make a great ambassador for jazz. He looks hip, he's articulate and extremely talented, and engagingly modest with it. All this, and he is a 100 per cent genuine jazz musician, not someone who's "influenced" by jazz or who's using the label as a marketing tool. He's the real thing.

Wilson's problem is likely to be the voting system, whereby winners are chosen by members of the public. Wilson is on a small independent label, Dune. How can he compete with the publicity available to Lizz Wright and Madeleine Peyroux, who are on the Universal subsidiary Verve?

The public's track record in this area is not encouraging. They did vote for Soweto Kinch in 2003; but last year they went for Jamie Cullum; in 2002 they picked Norah Jones; and in 2001 chose Incognito. The danger is that the award will go to the year's best-marketed jazz artist, not the one who has made the greatest contribution.

Have I missed the point of awards ceremonies? It's entirely right that jazz should be part of a celebration of music of black origin, and given its due alongside younger forms such as R&B and hip-hop. Let's just make sure the right exponent of jazz, the category with the most venerable roots, is honoured.