2016 had an overwhelming amount of good jazz music. Creating this list of the “Best Albums of 2016” was one of my most challenging blog posts to date. Still, I managed to bring my list down to the top 23 albums of the year. Before my list gets torn apart let me explain a couple of things. One, I have no remastering or reissues on the list. I feel there is enough current music going on that doing so would just take up a spot that could go to actual new music. Same goes for live shows that had no intention of being albums. Some of your favorites probably didn’t make the list. (No Bad Plus! No Jacob Collier! No Joey Alexander! Gasp!) Just because it didn’t make the list doesn’t mean it wasn’t of quality. I just wanted to make a nice, possibly consumable, list and I feel I’m already pushing that idea with 20 plus albums so some albums I loved had to be cut. Also some of those albums weren’t of quality. I didn’t rank the albums I provided my top album of the year first and then the rest of the list is in no particular order. Finally, somethings I just missed. It’s impossible to listen to everything regardless of how much time one spends listening to the latest releases. So this is my list, my favorite albums of 2016, may you enjoy reading about and exploring these albums as I did finding them.
Joshua Redman& Brad Mehldau- Nearness
Saving the best for first. Nearness is my album of the year. Right from the beginning with “Ornithology” we have a special album. The interaction and interplay between these two masters, is a treat to hear. Nearness is the perfect title for this album. With no other instrumentation this is a very intimate album with both musicians only having each other for company and interaction. I feel they complemented and challenged each other equally pushing their limitations, and creating a masterpiece in the process.
Lara Downes- America Again
Brilliant record, a beautiful solo jazz piano performance that will keep you entranced the entire time. Can’t recommend this one enough, especially in the times we are in. “24 Negroe Melodies…” is one of my favorite tunes on this album.
Donny McCaslin- Beyond Now
Saxophonist supreme hailing from New York, Donny McCaslin played a major role in the creation of David Bowie’s Blackstar. He picks up where that record left off and creates one of the most expressive, forward thinking, albums of 2016.
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque- Oddara
This collaboration project blends Cuban rhythms and groves in a jazz setting so perfectly. One of the more unique records to be released this year. This album was an All- Female affair and I hope to hear another collaboration from Jane Bunnettt & Maqueque again real soon.
Ben Wendel- What We Bring
This was an album I kept coming back to throughout the year. I just really fell in love with the melodies on this record. The track “Song Song” is one of my personal favorites. The rhythm is catchy, the piano vamps are nice, and when the saxophone comes in with the melody… it’s magical.
John Beasely- MONK’estra, Vol.1
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while now know I’m not a big fan of big band music. So, for a big band album to make this list, you know it has to be good! Monk is known for his brash, aggressive style of playing, and this big band captures that feeling and adds a different perspectives to many Monk classics.
Nels Cline- Lovers
The Wilco guitarist releases one of the most personal and emotional albums of the year with Lovers. He has a great tone and I love to hear his melodic ideas on the guitar, they really sing. Perfect example is “Glad To Be Happy” where Nels Cline plays the melody over the entire band and just cuts through the beautiful arrangement like a knife.
Brad Mehldau Trio- Blues and Ballads
Some days you just need some Blues and Ballads and when that day comes, this is the album to turn to. I really liked the track “Cheryl” it’s a jazz standard I don’t here being played enough. It’s a classic that this trio made refreshing and new.
Bill Charlap Trio- Notes From New York
Another album of just straight up classic trio jazz music. As much as I like hearing where music is/ where it’s going it’s nice to remind yourself that the trio setting of playing jazz standards still has a lot to offer. Opening track “I’ll Remember April” reminds me of this every time I listen to it.
Kenny Barron- Book of Intuition
More classic jazz! I promise we’ll get to the weird stuff later. What is there left to say about Kenny Barron? He’s a living legend. The 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll Best Piano Artist of the Year, follows that up with one of the finest albums of the 2016. I didn’t do rankings for this Best of 2016 list, but I will say Book of Intuition was in the running for Album of the Year until the very end. Check this one out.
Omer Avital- Abutbul Music
An early release, this album has brought me constant joy. A staple in the New York Jazz scene I really hope Omer Avital continues to garner the attention he deserves. I loved the entire album from front to back, but if you just want to try one tune I’d recommend starting with “Three Four”.
Brian Lynch Presents: Madera Latino- A Latin Jazz perspective on the music of Woody Shaw
This Grammy nominated album has so much going for it. Great arrangements, a who’s who of Latin Jazz and Jazz as a whole, and a great concept of honoring Woody Shaw. Add all of that together and you get one of the finest album of 2016. Fingers crossed they bring home that Grammy.
I told you we’d get back to the weird stuff! I love Jameszoo. Some might argue this isn’t jazz, but I’m not here for that conversation. I’m here to tell you this is one of the funkiest freshest albums you can listen to. I feel confident that five, ten years from now I’ll still be coming back to this album as well as whatever else Jameszoo releases. You owe it to yourself to check this album out. For a taste test start out with “Flu”
Theo Crocker- Escape Velocity
Escape Velocity is bold, political, and virtuosic. Theo Crocker blends jazz, hip hop, soul, and everything in between to create this experience. I only began listening to this album in the last month, but it has left such an impression on me that I had to put it on this list. The tunes ‘Transcend” and “We Can’t Breathe” are some of my personal favorites on this album.
Ari Ambrose- Retrospect
I really loved the arrangements and collaboration that occurs within the group on this record. “Back Road” and “Last Stand” are a couple of my personal favorites on this album. A very strong release with all 7 songs being of high quality.
Basel Rojoub- The Queen of Turquoise
Basel Rojoub is a Syrian saxophonist who masterfully blends his Arabic influences into the jazz world to create this instant classic. This album is a masterpiece and if ranked it would have ended up near the top of this list. A must listen to album for 2016 and beyond. Try out “Helvetica” or “Hamam (Pigeons)”and hear for yourself.
Mary Halvorson Octet- Away With You
I’ve seen this album getting accolades from lots of major publications and that excites me. I love it when great works get credit. This album is a bit… heavy. A lot going on here; complex harmony, rhythm, time signatures, etc. as long as you are prepared going in for that kind of experience and you should be fine.
Magnus Ostrom- Parachute
A fantastic, edgy, high energy, recording. This album is short and sweet with only 8 songs and 48 minutes long it’s a great experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Love this whole album, try out “Dog on the Beach” or “Parcahute” if you’re pressed for time.
This was my album of the year at the midway point of the year. I still love this recording, but it’s nowhere near the top for me anymore. Which is more of an indication of how good this year has been and not a condemnation of Spark. I’ve loved just about everything Hiromi has done so far and this recording is no different. Can’t wait to see what she does next.
Ben Williams- Coming of Age
Love the hip hop and soul influence I hear on this record. Fantastic grooves right from the start with “Black Villain Music” when the guitar arrives distortion and all it’s absolutely perfect. I found myself humming melodies like “Strength And Beauty” for days. This album really resonated with me and I think it will for you as well.
Warren Wolf- Convergence
The only album with a vibraphonist as the primary instrument to make the list. This Mid-year release has dominated my listening time in 2016. I love contrast between each track. Try out “Kind of Two Fives” and “Cell Phone” these are some of my personal favorites on Convergence
This London based trio gets the absolute most out of each member through fantastic compositions and interaction within the group. The opening track “67000 MPH” is a prime example of this. It never settles into one idea for too long and just when you are getting use to what is going on it changes direction.
Kenny Garrett- Do Your Dance
Kenny Garrett has been a jazz giant for some time now and this album might be my favorite release of his. It really has everything you could want in an album. “Philly” is a prime example of this. It begins with just solo piano. Gives the tune a very intimate and somber, ballad feel then it turns into this high energy tune at the 1:13 mark when the entire band comes in. The melody is reinforced and then Kenny takes off from there.
So there it is. My list of the Best Albums of 2016. What did you think? Any of these albums not deserve to be on the list? Who got snubbed? Any of these albums/ artists new to you? Leave comments below. Love to hear your thoughts and let’s hope 2017 is as musically enjoyable as 2016 was.