2016 was an interesting year in music, and especially interesting for jazz musicians. Below are ten albums that rose above the rest to take their place at the top this year. From instrumentals to vocals, these are the best the jazz world has to offer this year.
Americana (JD Allen)
Sometimes, it’s nice to have an album that’s stripped down of all pretense. Americana is not an album that revels in complexities or in trying to do something new, though it is a bit of a departure for JD Allen. Instead, it’s a stripped down version of what listeners have come to know and love, and it treats its subject matter with respect. If you like your jazz bluesy or you enjoy your albums sparse, this is probably going to be your best pick for 2016.
Real Feels (John Raymond)
There’s something inherently beautiful that happens when skilled musicians reinterpret old favorites. While the subject matter on the album is diverse, Real Feels has a very cohesive sort of sound to it. There’s something vivid and biting about the way the trio puts together the interpretations of these old favorites, something that makes the music absolutely come alive even if you’ve heard the songs a million times before.
Culcha Vulcha (Snarky Puppy)
Culcha Vulcha is a journey. During the run time, you’ll absolutely be taken places – and that’s probably an understatement. Snarky Puppy hasn’t been in the studio for the better part of a decade, but it’s like they never left. Culcha Vulcha isn’t so much a return to form as an admission that Snarky Puppy hasn’t lost a step.
Blade of Love (Battle Trance)
This is probably a divisive choice, but that’s par for the course with Battle Trance. It’s hard to deny that Battle Trance is incredibly good at what it does, but there would be many who would argue that it’s not quite jazz. What’s more important than form, though, is content – and when you listen to this album, you get it in spades.
The Way We Play (Maquis Hill)
Every year needs a good album that features some Chicago trumpet, and this year brings us The Way We Play. The reimagining of some beloved Jazz music standards takes a backseat to the trumpet work here, and fans of the instrument will be delighted in what they hear.
Arclight (Julian Lage)
Take one prodigy, age appropriately, and don’t dilute the skill – that’s what you get from Arclight. There’s nothing here you wouldn’t expect from Lage, and that’s just fine. You really aren’t going to hear better guitar instrumentation than what you’ll find here, and trying will just be a wasted effort. Instead, listen to Arclight. You’ll enjoy it more.
This is an easy pick for the list, taking its cues from a cross-generational collaboration of very skilled artists. The general use of electronica in the sound brings something fresh to the table, even as the trio works to bring in the soothing notes of the past. While perhaps not quite as fine as the works it seems to emulate, this is a fantastic album that deserves its place in 2016.
The Theory of Jazz (Ian Shaw)
Shaw’s almost too good at what he does, and that’s the honest truth. His voice works with almost everything. While most of this list is devoted to the artistry inherent in instrumentation, Shaw’s album steals this spot for the joy of the vocals alone. If you’re looking for a great vocalist, you can’t go wrong with Shaw.
Moments in Time (Stan Getz)
Stan Getz is a master, and this album just lends more credence to that statement. Yes, the album was originally laid down in the 70s, but it was unreleased. That makes for a fantastic excuse to list it here, and an even better reason for you to listen to it today.
Everything’s Beautiful (Miles Davis & Robert Glasper)
If Miles Davis was connected to a genre other than jazz, there’d be something vaguely heretical about reinterpreting his work. Fortunately, though, his legacy lives on through those who keep his work alive. One of the best of those is Robert Glasper, reinterpreting Davis with a pianist’s ear, and producing something incredible.