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Year in Review

Dan McClenaghan's Best Releases Of 2016


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The music keeps moving forward, evolving to higher levels. My search for the best jazz recordings of 2016 led me to these marvelous CDs.

Wadada Leo Smith—America's National ParksWadada Leo Smith
America's National Parks
Cuneiform Records

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has attempted in, the new millennium, to create his magnum opus. He may have succeeded with America's National Parks, a sprawling, dark-hued masterpiece celebrating the Mississippi River, New Orleans, Yellowstone, Yosemite and more.

Adam Pieronczyk—Monte AlbanAdam Pieronczyk
Monte Alban
Self Produced

A haunting ode to Polish saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk's early morning visit to the ruins of Monte Alban, outside of Oaxaca City in Mexico. Sax, bass and drums with electronics melding together to create an eerie, future-esque music.

Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus—The DistanceMichael Formanek Ensemble Kollossus
The Distance
ECM Records

Bassist Michael Formanek is best known for his small group recordings on ECM Records. This one takes him into a different universe—a boisterous, intricately arranged big band bursting with surprises.

Tom Collier—Impulsive IlluminationsTom Collier
Impulsive Illuminations
Origin Records

Vibraphonist Tom Collier shapes up a group of trio sounds with pianist Richard Karpen and five different, forward leaning compatriots, for a uniquely innovative set of sounds.

Daniel Schlaeppi/Marc Copland—More EssentialsDaniel Schlaeppi/Marc Copland
More Essentials
Catwalk Records

Perhaps the most purely gorgeous set of the year, with bassist Daniel Schlaeppi and veteran pianist Marc Copland engaging in fluid duets of standards and improvisations.

Masabumi Kikuchi— Black OrpheusMasabumi Kikuchi
Black Orpheus
ECM Records

Spare and spacious to the point of starkness, Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, in his last recording released during his lifetime, pared his artistry down to its bare, beautiful essentials.

Eugenia Choe—Magic LightEugenia Choe
Magic Light
Steeplechase Records

Pianist Eugenia Choe crafted the debut set of the year—a luminous sound that can stand with the best of them. This is the art of the piano trio at its finest.

Craig Taborn—Flaga: Book Of Angels, Volume 27Craig Taborn
Book Of Angels, Volume 27
Tzadik Records

Pianist Craig Taborn fronts an all-star trio on this rambunctious, assertive take on John Zorn's "Masada Book Two" music.

richard Sussman—Evolution SuiteRichard Sussman
The Evolution Suite
Zoho Records

Pianist/Composer Richard Sussman stirs up the jazz quintet with a string quartet and adds electronics to in a very successful effort to push the music forward.

Danny Green Trio—Altered NarrativesDanny Green Trio
Altered Narratives
OA2 Records

Danny Green, one of the most exciting new pianists on the scene, fronts a forward looking trio, and invites a string quartet in for a few tunes, on a set where his artistic vision sharpens to a fine focus.

Clay Giberson—Pastures Clay Giberson
Origin Records

Pianist Clay Giberson, a veteran Origin Records artist, hasn't enjoyed the profile his level of artistry deserves. Pastures, his finest work to date, should help in that regard. It's a all-star jazz quartet outing, with strings adeptly attached on three tunes, featuring Giberson's best composing alongside some well-chosen originals.

Frank Kimbrough—Solstice Frank Kimbrough
Pirouet Records

Pianist Frank Kimbrough, a long term member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, has come up with an enchanting piano trio set. It's mostly covers, drawn from mostly left-of-center artists. The trio interplay is intricate and exquisite.

Andrew Downing—Otterville Andrew Downing
Self Produced

Cellist Andrew Downing's Otterville spun in from out of the blue—from Canada, actually. It is an understated, folksy exploration of the charms and pleasures of small town life that mixes Bill Frisell-style (North) Americana, the elegance of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the dreamy atmospheres of Daniel Lanois.

Karavika—Of Earth And SkyKaravika
Of Earth and Sky
Self Produced

This probably isn't jazz, if that matters. Karavika—violinist Trina Basu; cellist Amali Premawardhana and bassist Perry Wortman—make some of the most inspiring music out there- -a mix of Indian Raga, American roots and spirituals and classical chamber sounds. Mesmerizing, lovely music like nobody else out there is making.

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