Voices at Large

DownBeat Critics Poll

08 JUL 08 NICK PHILLIPS

The critics have spoken, placing seven Concord Music Group artists into coveted #1 spots in the 56th Annual DownBeat Critics Poll.

Kurt Elling was far and away the top choice of DownBeat critics in the Male Vocals category. One listen to his Grammy-nominated Nightmoves and it is immediately apparent why he is such an overwhelming favorite.

You may have already seen Esperanza Spalding on the Late Show with David Letterman or heard her on NPR's All Things Considered. Now, she's at the top of the Rising Star Acoustic Bass category. Indeed, she is on a meteoric rise, fueled by a remarkable Heads Up label debut recording, Esperanza.

Proud keeper of the soul-jazz organ flame handed down to him by mentors Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff, Joey DeFrancesco is no stranger to the upper echelon of the DownBeat Critics Poll. Once again, the longtime Concord Jazz recording artist claims the #1 Organ slot, on the heels of his incendiary recording Live: The Authorized Bootleg.

Poncho Sanchez has been called "the new king of Latin jazz" by JazzTimes magazine, and apparently DownBeat critics likewise concur, voting him #1 in the Percussion category this year. His latest, Raise Your Hand, is an incessantly grooving Latin-meets-soul-meets-jazz fiesta.

Bela Fleck and his banjo -- whose unique bluegrass-meets-jazz virtuosity is magnificently showcased in his Latin Grammy-winning collaboration with jazz piano icon Chick Corea (The Enchantment) -- left harmonicas, accordions, cellos, conch shells, and tubas in the dust to claim the top spot in the Miscellaneous Instrument category.

And speaking of the banjo, Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo scored the #1 spot for Blues Album. Intent on re-establishing the connection of the instrument to its African roots, Taylor and friends succeed in coaxing more shades of blue out of the banjo on this recording than I've ever heard on any single CD before.

Last, but certainly not least, the late, great Joe Zawinul was voted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame. Over his amazing career, the Austrian keyboardist and composer worked with Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and, in 1971, formed with saxophonist Wayne Shorter what would prove to be one of the most important fusion groups of the '70s and '80s -- Weather Report.

For the complete 56th Annual DownBeat Critics Poll results, pick up a copy of the August 2008 issue.

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