California Sounds at the Grammys: Herb Alpert, La Santa Cecilia, Terrace Martin, Mariachi Divas and others

In addition to heavy-hitting California transplants such as Justin Bieber, Drake and Sia, this year’s Grammy Awards are awash with musicians either born or bred in SoCal. Perhaps only lowly New York City can compete with Los Angeles in terms of award-earning muscle. 

The 59th Grammy Awards on Sunday in downtown Los Angeles will see rising singer, rapper, songwriter and producer Anderson .Paak (Oxnard) compete for best new artist and Santa Monica’s best alt-rock band, Weezer, gun for a rock album win. 

The smooth R&B trio KING (Burbank) will compete (against .Paak, among others) for urban contemporary album. Rapper Schoolboy Q (South Los Angeles) earned two genre nominations for work from his album “Blank Face LP.” Metal? Megadeth (Los Angeles) addresses earthen damnation on “Dystopia.”

Below, a few other essential recordings from the varied Southern California roster hoping for trophies on Sunday.

Herb Alpert, “Human Nature” (Herb Alpert Presents). The Boyle Heights-born co-founder of A&M Records, musician and legendary musical benefactor Alpert hardly needs an introduction, but his contemporary instrumental album nomination should serve as a reminder of his continued artistic vitality.

The Grammy Lifetime Achievement honoree has released over 50 albums in his career -- and won 9 Grammys, most recently for pop instrumental album in 2014 for “Steppin’ Out.” 

His new album is named after the song made famous by Michael Jackson. Alpert’s interpretation opens the album, and those expecting a gentle take might do a spit-take: the trumpeter opens with wild rhythms, upending expectations from the first measures -- and never letting up. 

Terrace Martin, “Velvet Portraits” (Sound of Crenshaw). A lush, airy album that blends soul, jazz, R&B and instrumental hip-hop until such distinctions are rendered meaningless, the producer and saxophonist Martin’s “Velvet Portraits” is the prodigious musician’s best album to date. Known for his production and instrumental work with Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dog, YG, Robert Glasper and dozens of others, Martin’s an L.A. connector.

“Velvet Portraits” is a lesson in bridge-building. Though nominated in the R&B album category, it could have very well been given the nod elsewhere, as “Valdez Off Crenshaw” illustrates. Smooth without being cheesy and alive with texture, the track, like the rest of “Velvet Portraits,” signals an artist hitting his stride. 

Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea, “Tributo A Joan Sebastian Y Rigoberto Alfaro” (Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea). Millions of travelers know Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea from their long-running performances at Disneyland, where the all-female mariachi band has regularly showcased its art for over a decade. It’s also one of the most successful regional Mexican outfits in Los Angeles, having earned two Grammy trophies for earlier albums.

This season the Divas earned attention for “Tributo a Joan Sebastian Y Rigoberto Alfaro,” which honors the Mexican guitarist Joan Sebastian and mariachi singer and guitarist Rigoberto Alfaro, who was best known for his work with the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

White Sun, “White Sun II” (Be Why). The Santa Monica-based trio White Sun has a curious, only-in-L.A. back story, having been co-founded by Adam Berry, best known in the biz for his four seasons as the music director for the animated show “South Park.”

With lead singer and songwriter Gurujas and instrumentalist Harijiwan as White Sun, his work occupies a whole other dimension. 

That shouldn’t be a surprise. California helped birth New Age music, and across the decades its mindful, sparse tones and textures have scored millions of hours of yoga and meditation sessions. “White Sun II,” which features Grammy-winning kora player Mamadou Diabate, the Punch Brothers’ violinist Gabe Witcher and tabla player Abhiman Kaushal, was a breakout New Age hit in 2016, where it was a top-charter at both Apple and iTunes.

It’s got some tough competition — if that word is allowed when discussing New Age. Fellow nominees include Irish superstar Enya and Greek composer Vangelis, among others. 

La Santa Cecilia, “Buenaventura” (La Santa Cecilia). Led by the effervescent singer Marisol "La Marisoul" Hernandez, the Grammy-winning Los Angeles band blends Latin rock, bossa nova, rock, rancheras and various other strains of regional Mexican music, and in doing so has come to represent contemporary Los Angeles.  

This year the group earned acclaim for its sixth album. Called “Buenaventura,” it’s nominated in Latin rock, urban or alternative album alongside acts including Oakland Latin-rap team Los Rakas and the Baja California singer-songwriter Carla Morrison. 

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

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