Another year has passed, and it was a very good one for Contemporary Jazz. 2016 did not see the same big breakthroughs as the preceding year, when a combo around Kamasi Washington redefined Jazz for the 21st century. Some big names in the Jazz scene announced new records, but few of them could really convince as a top release.
Instead, a massive bunch of young talent released an array of amazing records in the genre, and showed us the path to the Bop of the future. Hip-hop and R&B continues to influence Contemporary Jazz big time, but seventies fusion and electronic soundscapes increasingly become a source of inspiration as well.
Here go the best Jazz Albums 2016 in alphabetical order.
Airelle Besson – Radio one
French trumpeter and composer Airelle Besson is a rising star on the European Jazz scene. Her 2016 album is a strong statement for her talent, and it is her best album to date. The album convinces with her subtle trumpet play, which goes in perfect symbiosis with the voice of Swedish singer Isabel Sörling.
Holland, Loueke, Potter, Harland – Aziza
Top Jazz musicians Dave Holland, Lionel Loueke, Chris Potter and Eric Harland finding together to create a joyful record with Afro Jazz influences. Definitely worth the listen.
Badbadnotgood – IV
Torontos quartet Badbadnotgood always has been a Jam project playing on the boundaries between Jazz and HipHop. Their fourth album, succinctly called IV, may not only be their most Jazz-centric, but also their most mature records to date. Don’t miss that fun and forward thinking combo.
Camila Meza - Traces
A fantastic debut record from Chilean singer, guitarist, composer and arranger Camila Meza. Her music plays somewhere between Jazz, Latin and Pop, and comes with beautiful soundscapes and emotional depth. Truly refreshing and enjoyable.
Cyrille Aimée: Let’s Get Lost
Vocalist Cyrille Aimée convinces with a joyful and timeless voice, and a very distinct selection of songs on her latest album. She is extremely polyglot and she’ll let you hear this in every single tone on her album. And the excellent guitar play by Adrien Moignard makes the cherry on the cake.
Daymé Arocena - One Takes
Skillfull and charismatic Cuban singer Daymé Arocena reimagined six covers and created a powerful afro Jazz sensation. Dancefloor shakers that leave no hip untouched.
Ezra Collective - Chapter 7
Watch out for the UK Jazz sensation 2016! Originating from a London-based platform for young Jazz musicians, this five-piece combo defines itself around Afro Beat and Hip Hop with a love for Jazz music. Brilliantly arranged compositions, featuring among others Zara McFarlane as a guest vocal.
And my gosh, that piano solo at minute 2:00 sure is the coolest solo this year.
GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object
The Manchester based Trio GoGo Penguin have been very well received in the Jazz world with their first two albums in 2012 and 2014. So there was no doubt they will go big, and they recorded their third album Man Made Object with Blue Notes Records. While some critics claim that their earlier releases have been more playful than the current one, I see this as a sign of maturity and confidence. Vibrant bass lines combine with a fascinating Piano soundscape, and a kickass breakbeat drum fuels the whole thing with an irresistible forward momentum.
Jeff Parker – The new breed
Guitarist Jeff Parker has been member of quite some noise rock, post rock, electro and jazz formations up to now. The best known of them may be the Chicago based band Tortoise, with whom Parker released a new studio album earlier this year as well. In parallel, he runs his own Solo project, and the new breed is a compilation of works he did solo over the past few years. It is with no doubt a brilliant piece of artwork, retro and futuristic at the same time, a selection of gems that Parker guarded in this vaults. The opener track “Executive Life” had me in a second, and I can’t stop listening. My gosh, just listen to that humming bass and that lazy 70ies melody loop! That’s the work of a genius.
Josef Leimberg – Astral Progressions
Long years he worked successfully as a producer, composer and trumpeter for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu or Kendrick Lamar. Now, Josef Leimberg does his very own thing. Astral Progressions is fusion jazz of the finest kind, and a whole array of innovators and game changers bring in their momentum and are contributing to the album. Kamasi Washington plays on it, Bilal sings on it, Terrace Martin contributes…Josef Leimberg sure has his connections sorted out. Get ready for this truly cosmic fusion Jazz sensation.
Julian Lage – Arclight
Many say it is the best Jazz album of the year. Many say he is the best guitarist in Jazz for the years to come. He got his first Grammy nomination already with his debut record back in 2010. So yes, Julian Lage achieved already more than most Jazz musicians could ever dream of. Arclight is a brilliant Jazz record released with Mack Avenue.
Lil Maxine – Little Girls Lovesongs
Vienna based Jazz trio Lil Maxine impressed us with an outstanding debut album this year. Brilliant song writing comes together with simple, yet minimal arrangements – yes, the minimalism also applies to the video.
Marquis Hill – The way we play
Chicago’s trumpetist Marquis Hill had redefined post-bop/hard-bop already with his 2014 album. He now signed with Concord Jazz and convinces with a very mature and elaborated record. The album comprises well written originals as well as some standards, for instance “My Foolish Heard” featuring vocalist Christie Dashiell. And Hills soft sound on the trumpet as well as on the bugle is simply terrific. A stylish, subtle and forward-thinking approach to post-bop Jazz.
Neil Cowley Trio – Spacebound Apes
Neil Cowley Trio surprised us with an album that sounds quite different than their previous releases. Spacebound Apes is a thoughtful concept album with all possible factettes. It has subtle moments like in “Grace”, where Cowleys piano carries it all and some electronics are used to add to the texture of the soundscape. But it can also rock out, like on “The City and the Stars”. For me, this is their best album to date and I get hungry for more. Please keep that momentum and become the Radiohead of Jazz!
Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus
London based Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams released their debut records on Brownswood this year. Synth keys, drums and a strong bass line creates a soundscape as contemporary as it could be. Stunning, bass saturated electro Jazz experiments flavoured with lots of great musical ideas.