Sunday, December 25, 2016

The 2016 Free Jazz Blog Reviewer's Top 10s

On January 1st we will post the winner of the blog's New Ears award, but for now, 
enjoy the mouth watering list of top 10s from your friends in the Free Jazz Collective! 

Reviewers Top Albums of 2016

We begin with the reviewers top 10 albums of 2016. A heartfelt congrats to Anna Högberg Attack and the Mary Halvorson Octet who came in tied for the top spot with their excellent new albums!

  • Anna Högberg Attack - Self-Titled (Omlott)

    Högberg's compositions, as well as a short one by Bergman, emphasize the individual voices of Attack and suggest a fresh and irreverent perspective on modern and free jazz. Högberg playing tends to burst instantly into fiery, restless solos, rich with melodic inventions, while Wättring and Larsson, each in her own distinct manner, opt to structure their solos in a more patient and methodical way. (more)
  • Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12)

    Halvorson deserves much credit for her tight arrangements that showcase the band in their best light, leaving room for everyone to do their thing while still managing to act as a single multi-headed Hydra seeking to destroy your minds and expectations of what jazz is in 2016. (more)
  • Joëlle Léandre – A Woman’s Work… (Not Two)
  • Tyshawn Sorey - Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi)
  • Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks (Cuneiform)
  • Battle Trance - Blade of Love (NNA Tapes/New Amsterdam Records)
  • Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra - Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
  • Fail Better! - OWT (NoBusiness)
  • Fire! – She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
  • Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg, John Fält - Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)

 Paul Acquaro

Top 10s are tough - it kills me to have to choose ... I'd love to add Rodrigo Amado's Motion Trio, Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra, and that fiery album from Corsano, Rasmussen, and Flaherty, among many others. Anyway, here goes ...

  • Red Trio & John Butcher - Summer Skyshift (Clean Feed)
    Nothing short of exhilarating. Red Trio consistently push the well worked piano trio to new heights, add Butcher and it's heaven.

  • Yoni Kretzmer Five - s/t (OutNow)
    This group live is a blast ... the three horn front line of Swell, Herberer, and Kretzmer each bring their own style and swagger and the rhythm section kicks it into high gear.

  • Tim Stine Trio -- s/t (Astral Spirits)
    What a debut! Devising an angular and melodic guitar style, Stine is an exciting new voice on the scene.

  • Abbey Rader Quartet with Kidd Jordan - Reunion (Abray Productions)
    Rader and Kuhn (below) are both NYC loft scene veterans and practicing Buddhists who bring their musical history and spiritual mindfulness to their wonderfully free music.

  • Peter Kuhn Trio - The Other Shore (NoBusiness)
    Kuhn released at least three albums this year ... the re-release of his late 70s work is a must hear but the new trio points to even more to come.

  • Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston & Larry Ochs - Neutral Nation (Aerophonic) 
    Rempis' Aeophonic seems to be in the running for label of year! This recording catches a hot gig of this road-tested trio's abstract and cooperative playing.

  • Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)
    An absolute highlight for me was Hogberg's set at the Alarm Festival in Berlin this past summer. The women on stage blew the packed audience away and the album is a bold debut.

  • Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    It's the horn arrangements that get me each time ... there is something familiar, something intriguing, and something crazy. Throw in Alcorn's pedal steel shimmer and it's out of this world.

  • Ken Vandermark - Before The Code: Live (Audiographic)
    I'm a little wary of electronics but Kurzmann knows how to mix Vandermark and co. into something way bigger than the sum of the parts. Just one of the three Made to Break live albums that came out this year.

  • Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg & Mary Halvorson - The Out Louds (Relative Pitch)
    I'm a fan of all the music Goldberg makes, but it's even better when Fujiwara and Halvorson are on the recording too. It's wry, tuneful, and great.

Tom Burris

  • Joe McPhee – Flowers (Cipsela)
    An absolutely stunning solo set by Mr. McPhee. This is nothing less than the new standard for solo reed performance.

  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon – Both Will Escape (Family Vineyard)
    The sound of 2016 being blown to bits. Thank God.

  • Tim Daisy's Celebration Sextet – The Halfway There Suite (Relay Recordings)
    Daisy gave us a gift for his 40th birthday! An unbeatable combination of musicians contribute to Tim's ambitious and lovely birthday suite.

  • Protean Reality – Protean Reality (Clean Feed)
    Chris Pitsiokos' trio with Noah Punkt & Phillip Scholz made an album that kicks off at peak power and stays there. It should be exhausting; but it's as energizing as sunlight.

  • Mary Halvorson Octet – Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    “I don't suppose Mary Halvorson can walk on water, but I'd like to see her try.”

  • Tyshawn Sorey – The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
    Undeniably original & beautiful music that is still shedding its layers with each listen.

  • Keefe Jackson & Jason Adasiewicz – Rows & Rows (Delmark)
    Concise pieces that obliterate the line between improvisation and composition by the kids who always did the “extra credit” work & wouldn't let you cheat off their tests.

  • Hearts & Minds – s/t (Astral Spirits)
    Jason Stein, Frank Rosaly & Paul Giallorenzo mash-up 70s prog-rock, no wave, and free jazz to create a monster all their own.

  • Bill Orcutt & Jacob Felix Heule – Colonial Donuts (Palilalia)
    Orcutt goes electric (again). All forms of American music go free! This inspires all the patriotism I can possibly muster at this time.

  • Lasse Marhaug & Ken Vandermark – Close Up (For Abbas Kiarostami) (Audiographic)
    Marhaug and Vandermark create sound poetry for the Poet of the Cinema. I doubt Kiarostami would've liked this music but, wherever he is, I hope he can feel the love.

Troy Dostert

  1. Claudia Quintet, Super Petite (Cuneiform)
    Another superb collection of songs from John Hollenbeck, brilliantly played by his veteran associates in an ensemble now celebrating its twentieth anniversary. The ten memorable pieces are “petite” only in length; each is chock full of ideas and beguiling nuances.

  2. I Am Three, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (Leo)
    A high-powered, energetic trio fronted by saxophonist/clarinetist Silke Eberhard, this is one of the year’s surprises. Imaginative, spirited renderings of Mingus’s repertoire, but without the feel of a “repertory” exercise, managing to stay true to the originals while being refreshingly creative.

  3. Mary Halvorson Octet, Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    Adding to her septet from 2013’s Illusionary Sea, Halvorson brings pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn into the group, and the texture and mood she provides take the music to another level. Quirky, complex, and completely spellbinding.

  4. I. P. A., I Just Did Say Something (Cuneiform) Firmly in the post-bop lineage and with Scandinavian flair, this quintet thrives on a hard-driving, loosely-structured sound. Engaging tunes and top-notch improvisational chops throughout: an infectious release.

  5. Tyshawn Sorey, Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi)
    Drummer extraordinaire Sorey’s effort to bridge the worlds of improvisation and classical composition works wonderfully, largely due to the seamless rapport between his long-standing trio and the chamber string trio he assembled for this project. Beautiful and stirring, with further dimensions revealed with each listen.

  6. Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, and Tyshawn Sorey, Flaga: The Book of Angels Vol. 27 (Tzadik
    Further proof of John Zorn’s genius: assembling this trio to perform his Masada compositions. McBride’s dazzling, in-the-pocket technique is the perfect complement to Taborn and Sorey’s out-leaning tendencies. A stellar jazz performance that should appeal to mainstream and avant-garde fans alike.

  7. Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra, Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
    An impossible-to-categorize release, stunning in scope, capable of both uplifting and confounding the listener in equal measure. Risser’s expansive palette makes terrific use of her 11-piece band, with music that sounds both otherworldly and, at the same time, melodically poignant and affecting.

  8. Angelika Niescier and Florian Weber, NYC Five (Intakt)
    Saxophonist Niescier and pianist Weber offer six smart, challenging arrangements that consistently channel their own formidable skills as well as those of their partners: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Tyshawn Sorey are all in splendid form in this stimulating release.

  9. Wadada Leo Smith, America’s National Parks (Cuneiform)
    Another masterful release by one of the premier trumpeters of our day. Smith’s dedicatory homage to America’s abundant resources—both natural and social—is by turns cerebral, mysterious, and transcendent. A recording worthy of its subject matter.

  10. Susana Santos Silva, et al., Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
    Spontaneous improvisation of a very high caliber. The always-lyrical trumpeter Susana Santos Silva anchors a quintet that offers two long, extended performances that are both free-flowing and remarkably cohesive. Outstanding contributions from Silva’s partners Sten Sandell, Lotte Anker, Torbjörn Zetterberg, and John Fält make this a truly collaborative endeavor.

Lee Rice Epstein

  1. Anna Högberg Attack—s/t (Umlott)
    Back in April, I commented “Prediction: I'm going to play the opening 25 seconds of ‘Borderline’ on repeat about a thousand times this year.” And this was probably true. At a brisk 40 minutes, every element feels exactly right, from Lisa Grip’s cover to that Högberg solo I’m so crazy about.

  2. Mary Halvorson Octet—Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    The other day, I mentioned to Troy that in a year of strong Halvorson releases (I also really loved The Out Louds debut) this was the strongest. Every one of these records keeps getting better, the bar is incredibly high now. And Halvorson and her band clear it with ease.

  3. Lisa Ullén-Nina de Heney duo with Charlotte Hug—Quarrtsiluni
    Very few albums leave me at a loss for words, but this was one of them. It’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Ullén and de Heney are wildly creative. For the record, it was also great to have a new Ullén quartet album this year, but her duo with de Heney just edged that one out.

  4. Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra—Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
    It seems impossible to anticipate Eve Risser. Following her solo debut with its wintry urban setting, who would have predicted the follow-up would be a tentet playing songs inspired by Bryce Canyon?

  5. Anna Webber’s Simple Trio—Binary (Skirl)
    Funny, a couple weeks ago I thought, Webber’s album will probably be in my top five, and… here we are. This group, with Matt Mitchell and John Hollenbeck, is so incredibly talented. The interwoven lines are somehow complex, loose, and fun, all at once.

  6. Julie Kjær 3—Dobbeltgæenger (Clean Feed)
    Another sax trio, this one with the conventional sax, bass, and drums lineup, but Kjær’s playing is hardly conventional. I haven’t heard their Cafe Oto recording yet, but I was thrilled to see there is already a second album.

  7. Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg and Jon Fält—Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
    Santos Silva released a number of different collaborative albums this year, but her Life and Other Transient Storms project, bringing together Anker, Sandell, Zetterberg, and Fält, created some of the best group improvisations this year.

  8. Kris Davis—Duopoly
    An ingenious concept expertly performed by all parties. Davis is a creative genius, and her playing is incredibly good. Her dual-piano duets with Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez were very close to the highlights of the entire year.

  9. Catherine Sikora—Jersey (Relative Pitch)
    I hadn’t known Sikora’s work before this album, but her playing really captured my attention. I may have listened to this a dozen times already. The ideas here are so impressive and her playing is engrossing.

  10. Okkyung Lee & Christian Marclay—Amalgam
    This was another album that just captivated me from the moment I heard it. And every time I listen to it, more layers are revealed.

Stef Gijssels

  • ROVA Channeling Coltrane - Electric Ascension Live (RogueArt) 
        A wonderful interpretation of John Coltrane’s Ascension, with CD and DVD, performed by Bruce Ackley on soprano saxophone, Larry Ochs on tenor saxophone, Steve Adams on alto saxophone, Jon Raskin on baritone saxophone, Chris Brown and Ikue Mori on electronics, Hamid Drake on drums, Carla Kihlstedt and Jenny Scheinman on violin,  Nels Cline on electric guitar, Fred Frith on electric bass, and Rob Mazurek on cornet.
  • Joëlle Léandre Box (Not Two) What can I say? A great must-have 8 CD box highlighting and celebrating the various sides and settings of the grand lady of free music. 
  • Wadada Leo Smith - American National Parks (Cuneiform) Mr. Smith keeps perfecting his art and his musical voice: a magnaficent performance by his Golden Quintet, creating a new musical experience with a very mature selection of stylistic ingredients. 
  • Sei Miguel - (Five) Stories Untold (Clean Feed) A powerful album from Portugal, with trumpeter Sei Miguel in five different line-ups, for an album which I may have listened to the most this year. 
  • Mark Solborg & Herb Robertson - Tuesday Prayers (Ilk) Trumpet and guitar? I love the combination, especially when played by two virtuosi with excellent listening skills. 
  • Fail Better - OWT(NoBusiness) Hypnotic, mesmerising, psychedelic, free music from Portugal. Too short. Far too short. 
  • Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji - Ffansïon | Fancies (Another Timbre)Davies and Mukarji dive deeply in the nature of sound and timbre of violin and piano, deconstructing and recreating in an intimate dialogue. 
  • Im Wald - Orion (Wide Ear Records) A wonderful celebration of multi-layered organic improvisation by this Swiss quintet. Dark and compelling. 
  • Johannes Nästesjö & Vasco Trilla - Gingko (Creative Sources) An unusual duet between Swedish bassist Johannes Nästesjö and Spanish percussionist Vasco Trilla, creating sounds that wouldn’t expect from the instruments, resulting in a great listening experience. 
  • Nate Wooley - Polychoral (Mnóad) Multi-layered soundscape  with Nate Wooley and Peter Evans on trumpet. Forget all previous notions and just listen. 
  • Totenbaum Träger - Ouverture Du Cadavre De Sade (Tour De Bras)  Another duet between guitar (Dominic Marion) and trumpet (Philippe Batthika), now one from Canada, resulting in the most terrifying listening experience, in line with the band’s and album’s title, dedicated to the Marquis de Sade. 

Colin Green

  • Barry Guy & Ken Vandermark – Occasional Poems (Not Two)
    Musical dialogue of an altogether higher order.

  • Fire! ‎– She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
    The gentler, more reflective side of Mats Gustafsson, and it works like a dream, a dream.

  •  Konstrukt & Alexander Hawkins ‎– 10.08.15 (Otoroku)
    Two exceptional sets from Konstrukt and guest Hawkins on piano. A real chemistry at work.

  • Joëlle Léandre – A Woman’s Work… (Not Two)
    An 8 CD tribute to one of the most potent forces in improvisation.

  • Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi ‎– Live at Edgefest (NoBusiness)
    Lerner’s crystalline piano, Filiano’s fruity bass and Grassi’s edgy percussion combine to produce music of power and delicacy.

  • Dave Rempis Joshua Abrams, Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker ‎– Perihelion (Aerophonic)
    Two gigs from one of the outstanding saxophone trios of the moment, joined on the second by Baker on keyboards/electronics. In another busy year of Rempis releases, this is the best of the batch.

  • Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp ‎– Corpo (Leo)
    Transcendent performances from two musicians at their peak. Long may it continue.

  • Sabir Mateen, Conny Bauer, Mark Tokar, Klaus Kugel – Collective Four (For Tune)
    No frills free jazz – the original spirit still burns.

  • Henry Kaiser, Steve Parker, Chris Cogburn, Damon Smith ‎– Nearly Extinct (Balance Point Acoustics)
    The title’s a misnomer since on the basis of this recording, improv’s alive and kicking. The album bristles with goodies.

  • Howard Riley – Constant Change 1976-2016 (NoBusiness)
    5 CDs displaying Riley’s reinvention and renewal of jazz piano, and his acute ear for pacing. The set includes the three epic Mutability “Longer Stories”, each lasting an hour.

Chris Haines

  1. Masayuki Takayanagi – Angry Waves Vol. 1 & 2
    ...Rare recordings from the vaults, a fantastic free jazz guitar trio…

  2. Staffan Harde – Staffan Harde (Corbett vs Dempsey)
    ...Well overdue re-release of this obscure gem…

  3. Tim Stine Trio – Tim Stine Trio (Astral Spirits)
    …Angular melodies with lyricism and irregular time signatures with a groove, what more could one want…

  4. Ian Brighton – Now and Then (Confront)
    …Great album from this rarely heard British second generation free improviser…

  5. Bushman’s Revenge – Jazz, Fritt Etter Hukommelsen (Rune Grammofone)
    …The most mature statement from this Norwegian outfit so far…

  6. Marc Ducret Trio + 3 – Metatonal (Ayler)
    …Great musical balance between grounded form and inspirational moments…

  7. Duck Baker – Outside (Emanem)
    …Yes that Duck Baker and he’s playing free!...

  8. Ivo Perelman & Joe Morris – Blue (Leo)
    …The saxophonist’s painterly approach to improvisation in an interesting duo format…

  9. Eric Hofbauer – Ghost Frets (Creative Nation)
    ...The spirit of Garrison Fewell is all over this one…

  10. Fred Frith / Darren Johnston – Everybody’s Somebody’s Nobody (Clean Feed)
    …Experimental music with an accessible edge…

Eyal Hareuveni

Missed many excellent releases due to chronic lack of time. This is by no means an objective attempt to summarize 2016, just my personal picks, in no particular order:

  • Fire! Orchestra - Ritual (Rune Grammofon)
    The best album of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra so far.

  • Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)
    Best debut album. And about time for a sophomore album.

  • Made to Break - N N N (Audiographic)
    Brilliant exploration of concepts of structure and improvisation by Ken Vandermark’s quartet.

  • Katharina Klement / Martin Siewert - Hoverload (chmafu nocords)
    This year i (finally) began to explore the work of Austrian guitarist-sound-artist Martin Siewert. You should too.

  • Radian - Ob Dark Silent Off (Thrill Jockey)
    Siewert trio that produces the most infectious, improvised noisy songs.

  • Østergaard Art Quartet - More Stories from the Village (Boggiepost Recordings)
    Danish-French-Norwegian supergroup with its long-awaited, most arresting, sophomore album.

  • Fredrik Ljungkvist / Mattias Risberg - And Now The Queen - A Tribute to Carla Bley (Lilao)
    Beautiful to the great Carla Bley 80th anniversary.

  • Guus Janssen - Meeting Points (Bimhuis)
    Dutch pianist-composer Guus Janssen excellent retrospective.

  • Warped Dreamer - Lomahongva (Rat)
    Belgian-Norwegian supergroup that sketches bewitching soundscapes.

  • Kristoffer Lo - The Black Meat (Propeeller)
    A unique sonic experience created by Norwegian tuba player.
Honorable mention:
  • Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (SacredBones)
    If you want to check something outside of the blog terrains, listen to the powerful feminine saga that blends stories on vampire movies, art and menstrual blood.
  • John Corbett - A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (University of Chicago Press)
    Concise, entertaining and enlightening introduction to this kind of genre-defying music.

  • Brötzmann - Graphic Works - 1959-2016 (Wolke Verlag)
    Indispensable 365 pages - posters, album and book covers with essays on Brötzmann art.
  • Voice - Sculpting Sound with Maja S. K. Ratkje, a film by IJ Biermann and Kai Miedendorp (Myrland Films)
    Impressive presentation of one of the singular musician of our age.

Eric McDowell

  • Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    With Susan Alcorn's keening pedal steel guitar, the first track alone is good enough to listen to over and over. But the whole album is killer.

  • Oren Ambarchi - Hubris (Editions Mego)
    While Ambarchi's latest album postdated our week devoted to his work, its sunny drones, electronic layers, and shredding guitar bring together many strands of his discography.

  • Battle Trance - Blade of Love (New Amsterdam/NNA Tapes)
    Somehow takes 2014's stunning Palace of Wind to the next level.

  • Tim Daisy's Celebration Sextet - The Halfway There Suite (Relay Recordings)
    Tim Daisy turns 40--best birthday party ever. An exhilarating half-hour ride.

  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon - Both Will Escape (Family Vineyard)
    From the opening gamelan sounds, I'm utterly hypnotized by this guitar/percussion duet.

  • Anna Högberg - Attack (Omlott)
    We willingly surrender. Fiery here, pensive there--an awesome debut.

  • Fail Better! - OWT (NoBusiness)
    The Portuguese quartet is as skilled at creating dark but breathable atmospheres as they are at jamming out.

  • Hearts & Minds - Hearts & Minds (Astral Spirits)
    Compositions that appeal to your brain played in a way that gets you in your gut.

  • Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönnimann, Lucas Niggli - Kalo-Yele (Intakt Records)
    Ten buoyant tunes. Simply put, this album brings me joy every time I listen set it in motion.

  • Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work (Not Two)
    Eight discs of the French double bass master in collaboration with an exciting variety of kindred spirits. What else is there to say?

David Menestres

These are the 10 albums that surprised me the most this year.
  1. Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji - Ffansïon | Fancies (Another Timbre)

  2. Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
    I was unprepared for how affected I was and still am by this album. The mystery has barely faded over many listens.

  3. Making Rooms box set (Weekertoft)
    A box set documenting four different groups recorded around the UK during the last week of April 2013: “Chasing the Peripanjandra” (Evan Parker, John Russell, John Edwards), “Naqsh” (Pat Thomas), “Knottings”  (Alison Blunt, Benedict Taylor, David Leahy), “Seven Cities” (Kay Grant, Alex Ward). A massive document from a deeply creative group of musicians. I am especially partial to the “Knottings” and “Seven Cities” discs.

  4. Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury, Wadada Leo Smith - Nessuno (i dischi di angelica)
    Recorded six years ago and finally seeing the light, Nessuno is as heavy and beautiful as you’d expect from four of the finest musicians of the last sixty years.

  5. Laura Cannell - Simultaneous Flight Movement (Brawl Records)
    Recorded inside Southward Lighthouse in Suffolk, UK, this is a beautiful solo album of fiddles and recorders with themes and improvisations rooted in medieval and renaissance times.

  6. Okkyung Lee and Bill Orcutt - Live at Cafe Oto (Otoroku)
    The most beautiful destruction of the year.

  7. Dave Rempis, Joe Morris, Tomeka Reid, Jim Baker - Nettles (Aeroponic Records)
    A digital only release featuring Joe Morris and three of Chicago’s top musicians. What else do you want out of this life?

  8. Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The Declaration of Musical IndependenceI (ECM)
    When was the last time we heard playing from Bill Frisell that was this interesting? It is worth the price just for Cyrille’s snare drum opening on “Coltrane Time” and the rest of the album is just as good.

  9. Battle Trance - Blade of Love (NNA Tapes/New Amsterdam Records)
    Four tenor saxophones performing a three movement work of intricate, organic, almost unparalleled beauty. A friend recently told me this is the only saxophone quartet he has ever liked. If you’re only going to pick one, this is it.

  10. Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus - The Distance (ECM)
    If we’re going by surprise alone, I was shocked to find myself enjoying a big band album in 2016, but Michael Formanek is as creative of a composer as he is a bass player. The economics of our music make it almost impossible to keep a big band working regularly, but this band, featuring some of the best players on the scene, needs to be around for years to come.

Nicola Negri

  • Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury, Wadada Leo Smith – Nessuno (i dischi di angelica)
    A precious documentation of an historical meeting and a masterclass in musical improvisation. Essential.

  • Wadada Leo Smith – America's National Parks (Cuneiform)
    As all the recent releases by Smith, this one will keep you busy for years, trying to decipher all the intricacies of a work of epic proportions.

  • Fire! – She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
    A beautiful addition to this band’s already impressive discography – dreamy, refined and powerful.

  • Arashi – Semikujira (Trost)
    One of the strongest trios around, a rare concentration of ideas, technique and pure energy.

  • Ryoko Ono & Rogier Smal – Wood Moon (Jvtlandt - Toztizokzoundz)
    An astonishing debut by a new improvisational unit, creating a quirky, exhilarating sound world.

  • Sylvain Guérineau, Kent Carter, Itaru Oki, Makoto Sato – D'Une Rive A L'Autre (Improvising Beings)
    Forgotten masters at work: a passionate example of free music expression in a timeless musical frame.

  • Tyshawn Sorey – The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
    A complex work of impressive scale that manages to sound completely natural and always engaging.

  • Mats Gustafsson & Christof Kurzmann – Falling and 5 Other Failings (Trost)
    Electroacoustic experimentation at its best – uncompromising, mysterious and captivating.

  • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit – Ana (PNL)
    The best large ensemble working today in free jazz, in their most focused and effective release.

  • Keiji Haino / Jim O’Rourke / Oren Ambarchi – I wonder if you noticed “I’m sorry” Is such a lovely sound It keeps things from getting worse (Black Truffle)
    Another instant classic from the last underground supergroup. As one of the track titles suggests: “Be careful of this word ‘New’ With it's glittering trap”.

Antonio Poscic

  1. Oren Ambarchi - Hubris
    Ambarchi and his army of stellar collaborators (Jim O'Rourke, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Ricardo Villalobos...) crossed over into the pristinely electronic side of improv and came back with an ambitious, but never strained record. This is gorgeous music dressed in drones, guitar feedback, and electronic effects with a breathtaking sense of sonic and stylistic expansiveness.
  2. Fail Better! - OWT
    The Portuguese quintet of Marcelo dos Reis, Luís Vicente, José Miguel Pereira, João Pais Filipe and João Guimarães is back with another dark, beautifully layered, freely improvised album that is ferocious in its calm but tense delivery and interactions flickering between the realms of drone, jazz, and minimalism.

  3. Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg, John Fält - Life and Other Transient Storms
    Deeply spiritual music that appears to be gleefully optimistic, almost explosive, yet reveals an introverted, pensive soul. Beware, because there's a danger of losing oneself in these cuts.
  4. Made to Break - Dispatch to the Sea
    Ken Vandermark's most daring project has released several great records this year with Dispatch to the Sea being the first among equals. Rhythmically engaging and texturally dynamic, it marks one of the high points of the band.
  5. Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Corpo“This recording is it, the ultimate coming together of everything Ivo and I have been for working on for years,” writes Shipp in his liner notes for Corpo. I find it hard to disagree. One of the best duo albums of the year.
  6. Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work...
    An 8 CD boxset devoted to one of the most creative and propulsive minds of the free improv/free jazz scenes. A Woman's Work is an impressive collection that showcases Léandre's unique voice both in a solo setting or contrasted against an array of great partners (Fred Frith, Irene Schweizer, Mat Maneri...).
  7. Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio - Desire & Freedom
    With Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Miguel Mira on cello, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums, this new installment of Amado's Motion Trio is another in a series of wonderful recordings, shifting and flowing from brash sections into subdued dialogs, but always retaining a certain singsong lyricism. Quite simply, one of the best trio recording of the year.
  8. Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks
    Wadada Leo Smith shows no signs of stopping, releasing, year in year out, majestic albums. Accompanied by his Golden Quintet, he explores the treasure of USA's natural and cultural resources and the dynamics between them and modern capitalist society. By virtue of Smith's activist, politically charged voice, this is probably the free jazz record that got the most attention from the mainstream. In this case, deservedly so.
  9. Arashi - Semikujira
    A no compromise vision of free jazz that Sakata, Berthling, and Nilssen-Love's embody into delirious, violent forms. Still, the album presents an evolution from their debut, introducing nuances and even reflective segments that interrupt the constant barrage of fiery free jazz.
  10. Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balasz Pandi - Strength & Power
    A completely improvised, ad hoc created recording that nonetheless feels incredibly cohesive and that somehow transports dixieland and other historic forms of jazz into the present, reinventing them in the process. Mysteriously exuberant!

Martin Schray

  • Fire!: She Sleeps She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
    These hellish bells at the beginning … they’ve often comforted me in a horrible year

  • William Hooker - Light (The Early Years)
    Re-release of Hooker’s first albums plus unreleased material - one of my favorite musicians

  • Brötzmann/Parker/Drake: Song Sentimentale
    2016 wasn’t Brötz’s best year but when he meets free jazz's rhythm twins he’s always in formidable shape

  • Anna Högberg Attack: Self-Titled (Umlott)
    Women-only band that kicks you right in the face - the sound and the fury! Plus the album cover of the year

  • Switchback: Live in Ukraine (MultiKulti)
    An excellent US/European band that explores the depths of both musical worlds

  • Konstrukt feat. Alexander Hawkins: Live at Cafe Oto (Astral Spirits)
    The Eastern World meets the Western World, the mysterious Turkish snake charmers in a jam with one of the most interesting representatives of the new British generation

  • Fire! Orchestra: Ritual (Rune Grammofon)
    A free jazz big band plays soulful prog rock; if they had existed in 1969 they would have played Woodstock

  • Roscoe Mitchell: Sustain and Run (Selo SESC SP)
    76-years old - and hardly anyone can top what he can do in solo performances

  • Snakeoil: Anguis Oleum (Screwgun)
    I only discovered Snakeoil after a beautiful gig in Frankfurt - I had no idea what I have missed until then

  • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit (PnL)
    The magic of large formation is something I can hardly resist, especially when they have exceptional soloists like Mats Äleklint and Julie Kjaer

Dan Sorrells

  1. Joëlle Léandre & Théo Ceccaldi - Elastic (Cipsela)
    This was the year of Léandre: our weeklong celebration seems hardly enough. There are a number of albums that could have gone here: the tentet on Ayler, the 8CD set on Not Two, the historic performance on Fou, and on and on. Her turn here with Ceccaldi is simply gorgeous music.

  2. Augustin Brousseloux, Jean-Marc Foussat, Quentin Rollet - Qui A Vu Ce Mystère… (Improvising Beings)
    There were also a number of notable Foussat releases this year, but this one with the (extremely!) young Brousseloux is a knock-out.

  3. Judson Trio (Joëlle Léandre, Mat Maneri, Gerald Cleaver) - An Air of Unreality (RogueArt)
    Two Léandre albums in the top three may seem excessive, but that's the kind of year she had. Maneri and Cleaver are also at the height of their powers.

  4. Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio - Desire and Freedom (NotTwo)
    Three long, glorious, lyrical cuts from Amado and his superb trio with Miguel Mira and Gabriel Ferrandini.

  5. Battle Trance - Blade of Love (NNA Tapes)
    Even more intense, intimate, spirited, melodic, ambitious, and virtuosic than Palace of Wind. If you can believe it.

  6. Lotto - Elite Feline (Instant Classic)
    The trio of Łukasz Rychlicki, Mike Majkowski, and Paweł Szpura conjure stunning, trace-inducing atmospheres out of bare-bones material.

  7. Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra - Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
    A hugely ambitious offering from Risser that showcases the many talents in her orchestra. A late year release that might have climbed even higher had there been more time to absorb it.

  8. Julien Desprez, Benjamin Duboc, Julien Loutelier - Tournesol (Dark Tree)
    Duboc has long been a favorite, and the two Juliens were new to me. This short album doesn't give up its secrets easily--every time I listen, it seems to be completely different from the times before.

  9. Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönnimann, Lucas Niggli - Kalo - Yele (Intakt)
    Infectious music. An ode to rhythm.

  10. Bushman's Revenge - Jazz, Fritt Etter Hukommelsen (Rune Grammofon)
    Admittedly, I've never been a big Bushman's Revenge fan, but this album is superlative. Some of the best "jazz" guitar I've heard in years.


Marco said...

thanks for the lists...and another fine year of writing.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? These are terrible lists. FIRE and especially Fire Orchestra are absolute garbage. Ya'll need to listen to more adventurous music.

Paul said...

So, what's on your list?

Unknown said...

good work folks, I agree with some and some I don't - but am mighty appreciative you are doing this. The Tyshawn Sorey album has been a revelation to me today.

Anonymous said...

3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011
by Anthony Braxton

Creative Construction Set™
by George Lewis Splitter Orchestra

XT (Seymour Wright / Paul Abbot)

Richard said...

Thanks again for another great year of reviews FJC. As usual,
I discovered most of my favourite music of the year through your site.

I refuse to submit to the tyranny of the number 10.

1-Lisa Ullen-Quarrtsiluni (with Nina de Heney & Charlotte Hug)
2-Simon Fell-SFS-The Ragging of Time
3-Evan Parker-Miller's Tale (with Courvoisier, Feldman & Mori)
4-Black Bombaim & Peter Brotzmann
5-Barry Guy-The Blue Shroud
6-Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon-Both Will Escape
8-Eve Risser-Les deux versants se regardent
9-Susana Santos Silva-Life and Other Transient Storms (with Anker, Sandell, Zetterberg & Falt)
10-Mats Gustafsson-Melt (with Brian Chippendale & Massimo Pupillo)
11-Linsey Wellman-Manifesto
12-Anna Hogberg-Attack
13-Roji-The Hundred Headed Women
14-Jamie Saft-Starlite Motel-Awosting Falls
15-Chris Abrahams-Fluid To The Influence

Favorite Reissue: Anthony Braxton Quintet Live in Basel (1977)

Anonymous said...

Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg, John Fält "Life and Other Transient Storms", Fail Better! "OWT", Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra "Les Deux Versants Se Regardent", Fire! "She Sleeps, She Sleeps" - these albums are very predictable, very mediocre and very boring. The same and the same; cliche of so-called experimental/improvisational music.

Colin Green said...

Then don't call them that.

As always, the interesting thing is how different the lists are.

Kreilly said...

Martin Schray says 2016 was not Brotzmann's best year. What does that mean? You can't drop a comment like that without elaborating. I see no downturn in the man's work from 2015 and the live set I saw with Heather Leigh was electrifying. 2016 wasn't Martin Schray's best year but his year end list is pretty good.

uhhh said...

great job! lookin' forward to 2017 !!!

Unknown said...

Joe McPhee & Chris Corsano - 25.7.12

This is one I haven't seen mentioned anywhere that is absolute fire and y'all shouldn't sleep on it.

friccolodics said...

thx a lot guys! this year's blog offers some of the best music in a long while....
for some unknown reason the high quality and extensive documentation of master musicians old and new in recent years has led to a very concentrated vintage...i wish all of you the best and many glorious listening hours

Gennaro Z. said...

I would add other 2 albums to my nominations for "Happy New Ears 2016" posted on December 16:
- Mikołaj Trzaska / Jacek Mazurkiewicz "Nightly Forester" (Multikulti Project)
- Ken Vandermark "Momentum 1: Stone" 6 CDs Box-set (Audiographic)

Best reissue of 2016:
Jimmy Giuffre 3 "Bremen & Stuttgart 1961" (EMANEM),
originally issued in 1992/93 as "Flight" and "Emphasis" on Hat Art.

Yigru Zeltil said...

John Butcher, Thomas Lehn & Matthew Shipp - Tangle, this one should be a strong contender (and, personally, my favorite of the year so far among the jazz/improv albums). Another good album I've heard that doesn't seem to be mentioned here: John Lindberg BC3 - Born in an Urban Ruin.
I understand the rage of the anon(s) towards Fire! and other stuff that's admittedly more predictable or even semi-mainstream, but if they want why don't they make a blog with an even more narrow focus, I would love to read it just as much as Free Jazz Blog or as blogs that are probably even closer to our definition(s) of what "adventurous" music can be, like Brian Olewnick's Just outside.

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