Before it’s too late: my Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2016. In the past I’ve explained in detail the logic behind the ways I tend to make my picks and how I don’t really like to rank albums. I won’t rehash that here. Below you’ll find the albums I listed on my NPR Jazz Critics Poll ballot (new releases and historical/reissues), in alphabetical order, as well as a link to audio/video if I was able to find one. There’s a lot of great music here made by folks going in a bunch of different directions. If these are new to you, go ahead and check them out. Hopefully there’s something on this list for everybody.
AZIZA, S/T (Dare2) – Debut album from the quartet of Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, and Eric Harland. Proving that music that grooves like mad and is tons of fun to listen to can still be complex and rigorous. Read my review here.
Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison, In Movement (ECM) – So it would be easy to get caught up in the narrative of this: DeJohnette with Coltrane’s and Jimmy Garrison’s sons? Who wouldn’t want to check this out? But, it’s much more than just a hook; it’s a fresh and creative album. Not having heard Garrison before I was surprised and captivated by his elec bass and electronics work.
DE3, Live at Maxwells (Sunnyside) – This straightahead album is the Truth. Trumpeter Duane Eubanks, drummer Eric McPherson, bassist Dezron Douglas. Compact compositions and solos, nothing superfluous. Pure enough to be on the periodic table.
Earth Tongues, Ohio (Neither/Nor Records) – This is for all the Morton Feldman heads out there. 90 minutes, improvised, glacial. A bit like The Necks, but develops even more slowly, with more space. Joe Moffett on trumpet and cassette player, Dan Peck on Tuba and cassette player, and Carlo Costa on percussion. For those with the patience (and the time), Ohio has a big payoff.
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton, Deep Memory (Intakt) – What a fabulous piano trio from these avant-garde heavies. Great compositions, great playing. Huge range in dynamics and textures. This one will wake you up.
Icepick, Amaranth (Astral Spirits) – Do not sleep on the Astral Spirits label. Until recently most of their releases have been cassette/digital only. Their catalog is quickly becoming a list of who’s-who in the free/improvised/experimental realm. One of the label’s first releases pressed on LP, Amaranth is the sophomore album from Nate Wooley, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, and Chris Corsano. As I mentioned in a post from earlier this year it’s as good as free improv gets. And bonus: the pressing sounds great. They only pressed 300, so if it’s not already sold out I’d get on it fast.
Steve Lehman, Selebeyone (Pi) – I have a lot to say about this one, and hopefully I’ll be writing a long review of it soon (it will have to do with album and the potentials for a new political praxis). This is easily the album I listened to the most this year. It’s what I’ve been waiting to hear my whole life.
Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, 2016: EPs (Hot Cup) – Readers of my blog are well aware of my love affair with this band. Read my review of this collection of 4 EPs here.
MMM Quartet, Oakland/Lisboa (Rogue Art) – A really fabulous improvised set from Joelle Leandre, Fred Frith, Alvin Curran, and Uri Leimguber. As good as postmodern free improv gets. Read my review in Point of Departure.
Wadada Leo Smith/Vijay Iyer, a cosmic rhythm with each stroke (ECM) – Wadada Leo Smith, who just celebrated his 75th birthday, is on a creative streak that I’m not sure anybody can top. His album America’s National Parks could very well have been on this list as well. But this duo album with pianist Vijay Iyer is special. Read my review for Point of Departure.
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, All My Yesterdays (Resonance Records) – You won’t hear an album where the musician’s joy at performing comes across any clearer than this. This is a recording of the fabled group’s debut performance. Read my review here.
Peter Kuhn, No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn, 1978–1979 (No Business) – A 2 CD set of music by reed player Kuhn, who was out of the scene for three decades. This release from No Business should help make folks more aware of this significant player. I reviewed this (and his brand new album) in Point of Departure.
Lyle Mays Quartet, The Ludwigsburg Concert (Jazz Haus)
So it turns out that after I submitted my NPR jazz critic’s poll ballot I learned that I was wrong, and that the Lyle Mays album was released at the end of 2015. As that is the case, I am now replacing it with the duo recording from David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp on AUM Fidelity entitled Live in Sant’Anna Arresi, 2004. You can read my review of it in the December issue of Point of Departure.