2016: The Last Word In Jazz

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We critics have spoken, and here’s The 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll : The Record : NPR.

I am happily surprised to see Henry Threadgill hit the top of the poll—it is generally slightly more forward looking than the Downbeat polls, but still skews to the mainstream. While his disc was not my absolute favorite for the year, it’s superb and represents not only his achievements as a unique and formidable composer of modern music (Henry’s idiom goes well beyond jazz) but also as a mark of his stature. He has been at the forefront of contemporary music for decades, but the Pulitzer win seems to have impressed a lot of people, and if he’s become the recipient of some default votes, he more than deserves that.

I’m also happy to see that Wadada Leo Smith’s America’s National Parks turned up. This was not on my list because I have not had the chance to give it the concentrated listening it deserves, but his recent compositions have been hugely ambitious and successful, and his playing is ridiculously strong—again, this is a mark of his stature and he deserves every bit of attention.

Also nice to see Resonance earn so much attention for their excellent run of reissues.

Listening proceeds apace, and before the year came to a close I got to considerably more jazz (thanks to the lull in classical concertizing). My Top 10 list remains the same, but I also want to add these recordings to the list of worthwhile 11s:

You can’t go wrong with anything on my lists, or the one at NPR.

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Best Jazz Releases of 2016

Let me qualify that header before things get out of control here: this not only snapshot of constantly shifting thoughts, but specifically conforms to the ballot Francis Davis sent out for his 11th annual Jazz Critics Poll. Despite NPR losing interest in jazz, they are still going to host the poll, the results of which will be up sometime in December. So I guess that’s something.

Now, one explanation and one major caveat. My experience with these releases—what led me to choose and rank them—is that, among the bevy of fine new jazz recordings I’ve heard this year (at least 200), these are the ones that completely satisfied me without any critical thought. I mean this in the best way; I listened but gave myself over completely to the music, and trusted each and every moment to bring me musically and logically to the next. The music occupied my mind and body. That’s my highest level of response.

The caveat is that the list goes roughly from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving. I have not been able to listen through everything I’ve gotten so far this year (there’s at least 96 hours of music still unheard) and due to release dates there are certain things that I trust will be important that have not yet reached me, especially Strut Records new compilation of Sun Ra’s singles, and Mosaic’s Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49. Look for them in my upcoming full year-end lists, or else in the ballot I fill out for Downbeat next spring. And so, I give you:

10 best new releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.

1 Kris Davis, Duopoly (Pyroclastic)

 

2 James Brandon Lewis Trio, No Filter (BNS Sessions)

3 Brian Charette, Once & Future (Posi-Tone)

4 Mary Halvorson Octet, Away With You (Firehouse 12)

 

5 Ches Smith, The Bell (ECM) (No official video or streaming audio available)
6 Eric Revis Trio, Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed)

7 Henry Threadgill, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings)

 

8 Ross Hammond and Sameer Gupta, Upward (Big Weezus)

 

9 Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band, More Than Meets the Ear (Artist Share)

10 Jaimeo Brown Transcendence, Work Songs (Motema)

 

Top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order.

1  Miles Davis Quintet, Freedom Jazz Dance (Sony)

2  Peter Erskine Trio, As it Was (ECM)

3  Arthur Blythe, Lennox Avenue Breakdown/In the Tradition/Bush Baby/Blythe Spirit (BGO Records)

Year’s best Vocal album.

Camila Meza, Traces (Sunnyside)

 

Best Debut album.

I did not hear a debut album this year that left a strong impression on me.

Best Latin jazz album.

Brian Lynch, Madera Latino, (Holistic MusicWorks)

Best Jazz Albums 2013

It’s not exceptional to write that 2013 was an excellent year for jazz records, since there are so many creatively restless contemporary jazz musicians driven to play and record dispute the enormous economic hardship of the jazz life. There are also more than ten best albums of the year, but this list comes via the ballot I submitted to Francis Davis for his 8th Annual Jazz Critics poll, hosted at NPR

I though rigorously about this one, and kept it within the confines of jazz. My definitions for the music are broader than many of my peers, but I still had to save such great records as Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd’s Holding it Down and Ben Monder’s Hydra for different lists, since stylistically their connection to jazz is attenuated. This may be the first 2013 list, but not the last, so you’ll see them soon.

If you want to buy any, this list collates all the ones available directly through Amazon, special distributions are through links in the release listings themselves. Remember, if you ordered through Amazon, a tiny bit of coin goes to me instead of Jeff Bezos (no extra cost to you) and that helps keep this blog going.

2013 Ten best New Releases:

  1. Mary Halvorson Sextet, Illusionary Sea (solid number one, a uniquely great record)
  2. William Parker, Wood Flute Songs
  3. John Hébert Trio, Floodstage (should be available through Clean Feed any day)
  4. Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, Liverevil
  5. Bobby Avey, Be not so long to speak
  6. Ches Smith and These Arches, Hammered
  7. Marc Cary Focus Trio, Four Directions
  8. Harris Eisenstadt September Trio, The Destructive Element
  9. Curtis Hasselbring, Numbers Stations
  10. 10–32K, That Which is Planted; Live in Buffalo and Rochester

These are all Number 11:

  • Noah Preminger, Haymaker
  • Mark Dresser Quintet, Nourishments
  • Ryan Keberle, Music is Emotion
  • Ryan Cohan, The River
  • Myra Melford, Life Carries Me This Way
  • Nate Wooley Sextet, (Sit in) The Throne of Friendship
  • Elliott Sharp Aggregat, Quintet
  • Endangered Blood, Work Your Magic
  • Amir ElSaffar, Alchemy
  • Billy Bang, Da Bang
  • John Hollenbeck, Songs I Like a Lot
  • Darcy James Argue, Brooklyn Babylon
  • JP Schlegelmilch, Throughout
  • Ghost Train Orchestra, Book of Rhapsodies
  • Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Slippery Rock
  • Ben Goldberg, Unfold Ordinary Mind
  • Marco Cappelli Acoustic Trio, Le Stagioni Del Commissario Ricciardi

2013 Top Three Reissues:

  1. Woody Shaw, The Complete Muse Sessions
  2. Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Begins
  3. The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions

And tied for an even fourth:

  • Paul Bley, The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note
  • Joe McPhee, Nation Time

2013 Best Vocal Album: Andy Bey, The World According to Andy Bey

  • Just as great is Pete McGuiness, Voice Like a Horn!

2013 Best Debut Album: Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense, Moment and the Message

These are also superb and promise future excitement, and the debut list would be in the top 10, but this was a convenient excuse to honor a baker’s dozen of jazz albums you should be listening to:

  • Dylan Ryan & Sand, Sky Bleached
  • Thiefs, Thiefs

2013 Best Latin Jazz Album: Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, Jazz Latin

You will find just as much pleasure with:

  • Sao Paolo Underground, Beija Flors Velho E Sujo

UPDATED: Fixed Mary Halvorson’s album title, added link to final poll results

Keepin' It Real

Links and Lists:

Jazz of the Year 2012

Once again Rhapsody is going to be hosting the annual poll of jazz critics that Francis Davis has been organizing for the previous six years, and I have voted in it for the third year running (results will be published January).

Here’s the ballot I gave him, plus more. The nature of the list is that it is a snapshot in time, as of late last week, and if I put it together again today it would likely be different. The relative rankings change on a daily basis, and some discs that I list below as ‘Honorable Mentions’ might find their way into the top ten, and vice-versa. What this means is that these are all fine recordings, spanning a broad range of thinking and styles. Discs in the ‘Honorable Mention’ can be as strong as the top ten, but depending on the day I’m listening they might have seem to have a little less of that certain je ne sais quoi, that bit of idiosyncratic music-making that pushes past forms and structures. One thing is pretty rock-solid though, and that’s the top two records which can go back and forth for me minute to minute but are the two finest jazz releases of 2012.

2012 best new releases:

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Every Vote, Counted

Francis Davis has tabulated the jazz critics poll for the Village Voice (my ballot is here), and the results are in. I have no complaints about Jason Moran being on top, nor of the top ten in general, which completely avoids music that keeps jazz pinned under glass, like a dead butterfly, and instead spans a range from just outside the mainstream to way outside the mainstream. Nice to see Pi Recordings more than once – along with New Amsterdam they have had a great run of releases this year. You can see the detailed results by clicking through, and that’s interesting too. For myself, I enjoy seeing Davis’ own complete set of picks, because he’s a critic I have been admiring for decades, and he has some recordings he favors that I thought were just awful! It’s health.