Dec 27, 2016
You’ve been reading the “best of” lists for the past few weeks in the press and online, but here at Straight No Chaser we take a slightly different approach to list making. Rather than presume to match artist against artist, album against album, we try to give you a list of those 2016 releases that made the greatest impression or were in the heaviest rotation throughout the year.
I created five different categories within which to share my favorite things with you. It seems only fair that the work of a new artist – say the Hot Sardines – should not be matched up against that of an experienced veteran like Fred Hersch for purposes of comparison. And given that 2016 was the Year of the Resonance label treasure trove of unreleased recordings from the likes of Bill Evans, Larry Young and Sarah Vaughan, how can those masters of the genre be compared with the genre-busting work of Donny McCaslin and Theo Croker?
So, here are a few of my favorite things from 2016:
Great New Things from Old Friends
Avishai Cohen – Into the Silence
Herlin Riley – New Direction
Warren Wolf – Convergence
Donny McCaslin – Beyond Now
Fred Hersch Trio – Sunday Night at the Vanguard
New Artists and Those Hitting Their Stride
Theo Croker – Escape Velocity
Julian Lage – Arclight
The Hot Sardines – French Fries and Champagne
Daniel Freedman – Imagine That
Marquis Hill – The Way We Play
Memorable Reissues, Compilations, and Posthumous or Archival Albums
Larry Young – Larry Young in Paris: The Ortf Recordings
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays
Sarah Vaughn – Live at Rosy’s
Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest
Erroll Garner – Ready Take One
Tribute Albums of Note
Miles Davis & Robert Glasper - Everything’s Beautiful
John Beasley – MONKestra, Volume One
Dave Stryker – Eight Tracks II
Catherine Russell – Harlem on My Mind
Brian Lynch - Presents Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Interpretation On The Music Of Woody Shaw
Reunions and Collaborations of Note
Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matt Garrison – Movement
Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Lionel Loeuke/Eric Harland – Aziza
Phil Woods and Greg Abate – Kindred Spirits
Ron Carter and Vitoria Maldonado – Brasil L.I.K.E.
Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling – The Upward Spiral
I traditionally chose a "Most Valuable Player", meaning someone who has either appeared on multiple albums or released multiple works that show their abilities as leader, sideman, composer or arranger. This year the "MVP" is Wadada Leo Smith, for his outstanding collaboration with Vijay Iyer, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, both as a recording and for the great live performances they gave together, and for Smith's sweeping jazz work America's National Parks, with his Golden Gate Quartet.
Jazz finishes 2016 in surprisingly good shape. Jazz was in the movie theatres more than ever, with documentaries on John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in the art houses, and with fictional films based on the lives of Miles Davis and Chet Baker at the multiplex. David Bowie’s final album, while not a jazz release, brought the Donny McCaslin Group in as a perfect backing band for the Thin White Duke’s final musical statement. Hip-Hop artists continue to find inspiration in jazz, and jazz artists are bringing the freshness and excitement of Hip-hop to the their music, just as their predecessors did with rock music in the late Sixties. Veterans like John Scofield and Bill Frisell reached for Country music roots on their latest CDs, and Dave Holland’s super group Aziza brought back the fury of fusion. Norah Jones released a jazz-based album that will hopefully bring Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade to millions more music lovers. Henry Threadgill on a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for music. Artists like Terence Blanchard and Tyshawn Sorey stretched jazz and opera into a new hybrid. Wynton Marsalis finished a symphony that will debut in New York next month.
While far too many of the jazz masters of the past are going to that Great Bandstand in the Sky, younger players are moving in and up to take jazz in some new and exciting directions. From pre-teen Joey Alexander to new Young Lions like Kamasi Washington and Marquis Hill, the music seem to be in good hands. If you did not read Nate Chinen's insightful piece in the Sunday New York Times a week or so back, check it out here - he makes a good case for where the music has come from, and where it might go and why. Furthermore, the Black Lives movement, and the racist overtones of the new Trump administration may be lighting a fire under jazz musicians just as the Civil Rights movement did in the late Fifties. What that will mean remains to be seen, but it is greatly anticipated in the new year,
Podcast 556 features musical selections from each category, including:
Donny McCaslin - "Warszawa"
Hot Sardines - "People Will Say We're in Love"
Larry Young - "Trane of Thought"
Dave Stryker - "Time of the Season"
Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Telling - 'Doxy"