L: Michael Pisaro – the earth and the sky
R: Julius Eastman – Femenine

Best of 2016: Noteworthy Recordings

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 Pisarothe earth and the sky – Reinier Van Houdt (ErstClass)


Hans Abrahamsenlet me tell you – Barbara Hannigan, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons (Winter & Winter)


AnohniHopelessness (Secretly Canadian)


Darcy James Argue’s Secret SocietyReal Enemies (New Amsterdam)

Robert AshleyCrash (Lovely Music)

Marcos BalterÆsopica – International Contemporary Ensemble (Tundra/New Focus)


BeyoncéLemonade (Columbia)


David BowieBlackstar (ISO/Columbia)


Anthony Braxton3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 (Firehouse 12)


Joda ClémentSea Songs (Caduc)


Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew GarrisonIn Movement (ECM)

Jürg Frey – String Quartet No. 3; Unhörbare Zeit – Quatuor Bozzini (Edition Wandelweiser)


Guido GamboaSaturday’s Notes (Pentiments)


Sarah HenniesGather & Release (Category of Manefestation)


Amirtha Kidambi Elder OnesHoly Science (Northern Spy)


Parker MillsapThe Very Last Day (Okrahoma)


Linda Catlin SmithDirt Road – Mira Benjamin, Simon Limbrick (Another Timbre)


Tyshawn SoreyThe Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)


Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double UpOld Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings)


Marvin Tate/Joseph Clayton MillsThe Process (Every Contact Leaves a Trace)

20 Archival Recordings

☆ Julius EastmanFemenine – S.E.M. Ensemble (Frozen Reeds)


Harry BertoiaSonambient (Complete Collection) (Important)

Arthur BlytheIn the Tradition/Lenox Avenue Breakdown/Illusions/Blythe Spirit (BGO Records)


CelerI love you so much I can’t even title this (Infraction)


Suzanne CianiBuchla Concerts 1975 (Finders Keepers)


DeathScream Bloody Gore (expanded edition) (Relapse)


Tod DockstaderFrom the Archives (Starkland)


David FirstThe World Casio Quartet – The Complete Gramavision Session (Pogus)


Giovanni FontanaEpigenetic Poetry 1968-2014 (Recital)


Anna Homler and Steve MoshierBreadwoman & Other Tales (RVNG Intl.)


Thad Jones/Mel Lewis OrchestraAll My Yesterdays (Resonance)


King CrimsonOn (and Off) the Road (DGM/Panegyric)


Pere UbuArchitecture of Language 1979-1982 (Fire)


Daniel Schmidt and the Berkeley GamelanIn My Arms, Many Flowers (Recital)


Carl StoneElectronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties (Unseen Worlds)


Sun RaSingles (Strut)


Various Artists(The Microcosm) Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970-1986 (Light in the Attic)


Various ArtistsMusic of Morocco – Recorded by Paul Bowles 1959 (Dust to Digital)


Yoshi WadaOff the Wall (Saltern)


David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp DuoLive in Sant’Anna Arresi, 2004 (AUM Fidelity)

Further Recordings of Note

Kati AgócsThe Debrecen Passion – Lorelei Ensemble, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound)
Bent KneeSay So (Cuneiform)
Lea BertucciAxis/Atlas (Clandestine Compositions)
Blood OrangeFreetown Sound (Domino)
Nels ClineLovers (Blue Note)
Ian William CraigCentres (130701/FatCat)
Robert CurgenvenClimata (Dragon’s Eye)
Andrew Cyrille QuartetThe Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM)
Chaya CzernowinThe Quiet: Works for Orchestra (Wergo)
Sarah DavachiDominions (JAZ Records)
Ensemble Dal Niente + DeerhoofBalter/Saunier (New Amsterdam)
Morgan Evans-WeilerEndless Overtones in Relational Space (Suppedaneum)
Jeremy FlowerThe Real Me (self-released)
Michael Formanek Ensemble KolossusThe Distance (ECM)
Mary Halvorson OctetAway With You (Firehouse 12)
International Contemporary EnsembleOn the Nature of Thingness (Starkland)
Ben Johnston – String Quartets Nos. 6-8 – Kepler Quartet (New World)
King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardNonagon Infinity (Flightless)
Steve Lehman & SélébéyoneSélébéyone (Pi Recordings)
MarillionF.E.A.R. (Intact)
MetallicaHardwired… to Self-Destruct (Blackened)
Meredith MonkOn Behalf of Nature (ECM New Series)
Olga NeuwirthGoodnight Mommy (original soundtrack) (Kairos)
David RakowskiStolen Moments – Amy Briggs, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound)
Matthew Revert/Vanessa RossettoEarnest Rubbish (Erstwhile)
Keith RoweThe Room Extended (Erstwhile)
Esperanza SpaldingEmily’s D+Evolution (Concord)
Spektral QuartetSerious Business (Sono Luminus)
Ken ThomsonRestless – Ashley Bathgate, Karl Larson (Uffda)
Toshiya TsunodaSomasikiba (edition.t)
Nate WooleyPolychoral (Mnóad)
Eric WubbelsDuos with Piano: Book I – Wet Ink Ensemble (Carrier)
Thalia Zedek BandEve (Thrill Jockey)
John ZornCommedia dell’arte (Tzadik)
John ZornFlaga: Book Of Angels, Vol. 27 – Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, Tyshawn Sorey (Tzadik)

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  1. […] as performed by violinist Mira Benjamin and percussionist Simon Limbrick, landed on my year-end Best of 2016: Noteworthy Recordings list (and also the list compiled by the redoubtable author and New Yorker critic Alex Ross). […]

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National Sawdust has not only taken a keen interest in monitoring and evaluating the current state of music journalism and criticism from its inception, but also more recently has pursued an active role in fostering its continued health. We talk regularly with journalists, critics, institutions, and other influential figures about the state of our collective affairs – now, we'll be sharing some of those conversations with the reading public.