The best music I heard in 2016

As with my books list, this is music that I listened to for the first time in 2016, not stuff that was necessarily released in 2016. But I’ve put them in approximate order by release date so the more recent stuff is at the top. A lot of promising stuff has come out just in the last few months that I haven’t listened to yet; I’m particularly looking forward to the new Mary Halvorson album. This year was a bit more jazz-centric than 2015:

    • Sun Ra – The Intergalactic Thing. A release of never-before-heard Sun Ra tapes from the crucial year of 1969, and it’s not going straight to the top of my list? Please. A rewarding dose of clattering percussion and spacey keyboards in the master’s inimitable style.
    • Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Epicenter. An excellent combination of smart compositions and groove; Craig Taborn mostly plays electric piano, providing a cool backdrop to the interplay between tenor saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek.
    • Tomeka Reid — Tomeka Reid Quartet. A fresh, lively and generally fantastic recording. The lineup of cello, guitar, bass, drums is unique, but this is not just an avant-garde workout: the compositions are strong and tuneful and the group is swinging.
    • Food – This Is Not A Miracle. I’m a sucker for this group’s combination of searching saxophone, guitar skronk and spacey electronics. The latest recording is also very satisfying, atmospheric listening.
    • Icebreaker — Philip Glass: Music With Changing Parts. A powerful contemporary recording of a classic early Glass piece that is otherwise hard to hear.
    • Ran Blake – Short Life Of Barbara Monk. An overlooked classic from the unheralded year of 1986. The lineup is solidly traditional jazz–tenor sax, piano, bass, drums–but the approach is fascinatingly untraditional.
    • Yusef Lateef – The Centaur And The Phoenix. The soulful multi-instrumentalist fronts a larger ensemble with complex arrangements; a lovely session.
    • Curtis Fuller – Blues-ette. A near-perfect masterpiece of hard bop from 1959, featuring the great tenor saxophonist Benny Golson along with trombonist Fuller.
    • Thelonious Monk – Orchestra At Town Hall. The first of only two large-ensemble recordings Monk would make in his lifetime, this 1959 album is a stone-cold classic, every track is gold.
    • Charlie Parker – Charlier Parker. After immersing myself in a lot of Parker this year, I concluded that this is possibly his single finest set of recordings–great sound, and startlingly vibrant performances.
    • The Carter Family – Volume 2: 1935-1941. The Carter Family’s 1928-29 recordings are officially legendary. But these later ones are often more listener-friendly, with better sound quality and more assured performances. An amazing wealth of classic songs.
    • Duke Ellington – The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion And Okeh Small Group Sessions. Not just a best of the year, a best of all time–some of the most wonderful jazz ever recorded, at least for my taste. These small-group sessions have the unmistakable Ellington flair for arrangement and color, but often feel looser and more laid-back than the full orchestra. Truly a near-endless supply of casually tossed-off genius.

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