Trying to tally the year’s “best” recordings is a thankless task, not least because there’s no realistic chance anyone has heard everything. I’m certain that noteworthy things linger unheard in the piles on my desk and the links in my email inbox, and just yesterday Simon Cummings, the composer behind the invaluable music blog 5:4, rolled out a year-end list that included any number of fascinating recordings I hadn’t even heard of.
What’s more, every listener’s taste is individual, and focus can be contingent upon situation. At the start of 2016 I concentrated heavily on mainstream pop and rock releases for work-related reasons, to the detriment of experimental projects, whereas by year’s end pretty much the opposite applied. I didn’t acquire or hear nearly enough jazz, and while I certainly spun my share of Bach, Brahms, Wagner, and Puccini recordings, virtually none were new releases by contemporary artists.
All of which said, the following lists comprise the new recordings and archival projects that impressed and moved me most in 2016, each category featuring a top pick marked with a star (☆), plus an appendix of even more albums that brightened this year. (Two albums included, by Jürg Frey and Guido Gamboa, technically were released in late 2015, but neither saw widespread U.S. distribution until 2016 – and both were among my most-played discs of the year.)
20 New Recordings
☆ Michael Pisaro – the earth and the sky – Reinier Van Houdt (ErstClass)
Hans Abrahamsen – let me tell you – Barbara Hannigan, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons (Winter & Winter)
Anohni – Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian)
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Real Enemies (New Amsterdam)
David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo – Live in Sant’Anna Arresi, 2004 (AUM Fidelity)
Further Recordings of Note
Kati Agócs – The Debrecen Passion – Lorelei Ensemble, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound) Bent Knee – Say So (Cuneiform) Lea Bertucci – Axis/Atlas (Clandestine Compositions) Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (Domino) Nels Cline – Lovers (Blue Note) Ian William Craig – Centres (130701/FatCat) Robert Curgenven – Climata (Dragon’s Eye) Andrew Cyrille Quartet – The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM) Chaya Czernowin – The Quiet: Works for Orchestra (Wergo) Sarah Davachi – Dominions (JAZ Records) Ensemble Dal Niente + Deerhoof – Balter/Saunier (New Amsterdam) Morgan Evans-Weiler – Endless Overtones in Relational Space (Suppedaneum) Jeremy Flower – The Real Me (self-released) Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus – The Distance (ECM) Mary Halvorson Octet – Away With You (Firehouse 12) International Contemporary Ensemble – On the Nature of Thingness (Starkland) Ben Johnston – String Quartets Nos. 6-8 – Kepler Quartet (New World) King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity (Flightless) Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone – Sélébéyone (Pi Recordings) Marillion – F.E.A.R. (Intact) Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (Blackened) Meredith Monk – On Behalf of Nature (ECM New Series) Olga Neuwirth – Goodnight Mommy (original soundtrack) (Kairos) David Rakowski – Stolen Moments – Amy Briggs, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound) Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto – Earnest Rubbish (Erstwhile) Keith Rowe – The Room Extended (Erstwhile) Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord) Spektral Quartet – Serious Business (Sono Luminus) Ken Thomson – Restless – Ashley Bathgate, Karl Larson (Uffda) Toshiya Tsunoda – Somasikiba (edition.t) Nate Wooley – Polychoral (Mnóad) Eric Wubbels – Duos with Piano: Book I – Wet Ink Ensemble (Carrier) Thalia Zedek Band – Eve (Thrill Jockey) John Zorn – Commedia dell’arte (Tzadik) John Zorn – Flaga: Book Of Angels, Vol. 27 – Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, Tyshawn Sorey (Tzadik)
A weekly tally of memorable things Steve Smith has stuck in his ears, including music by Reinier Van Houdt, Django Bates’s Belovèd, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Richard Horowitz, Gyða Valtýsdottir, Plaistow, and Sun Ra…