2016: The Year’s Five Best Jazz Albums


The year 2016 was an exciting one for the music industry; and for jazz music in particular, because of the many spectacular acts and performances. Here are five of the best jazz albums of 2016, by some of the most interesting jazz artists of the year.

1. Archlight by Julian Lage

A former child prodigy, Julian Lage is one of the most respected and admired modern jazz guitar players. In the album Archlight, he performs different tracks that are inspired by and a tribute to some of his early 20th-century electric guitar favorites. You will hear traces of Les Paul, some Chet Atkins, and George Barnes. Lage also uses a “Telecaster” in the album, one that’s created by Dan Strain. It gives off a slightly “old electric guitar sound.”


2. Shift by Logan Richardson

Logan Richardson is a saxophonist and Shift is way of paying tribute to his musical roots that go all the way to Kansas City. The tracks on the album range from chamber jazz to a more modern piece, his version of the popular Bruno Mars song “Locked Out of Heaven.” Richardson displays his skills and range on this album, which can be distinctly described as daring and out-of-the-box. What makes the album even more interesting is the fact that it brings together modern jazz favorites Pat Metheny (guitar), Jason Moran (piano), Nasheet Waits (drums), and Harish Raghavan (bass).

3. The Way We Play by Marquis Hill

If you love Chicago and its jazz music, you will enjoy Marquis Hill’s The Way We Play. The 29-year-old trumpeter, who was dubbed by The New York Times as a “dauntingly skilled trumpeter,” plays jazz music that combines modern musical elements with the classic, particularly one that reminds you of Chicago. The album contains tracks and concepts that are as creative as can be. For instance, there is a beautiful rendering of the Chicago Bulls Theme (Michael Jordan days), as well as uniquely creative interpretations of jazz favorites by Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, among others. The tracks showcase the young musician’s innovative artistry, combining classic elements of Chicago jazz with some futuristic and abstract remakes. One of the best tracks in the album is Hill and singer Christie Dashiell’s passionate version of “My Foolish Heart,” which was popularized by Ned Washington and Victor Young.


4. Escape Velocity by Theo Croker

Theo Croker is a graduate of the Oberlin College Conservatory. He is also the grandson of Doc Cheatham, a respected, popular, and award-winning Dixieland trumpeter. Croker followed the footsteps of his grandfather as a trumpeter. He is also a singer, composer, and arranger. At 16 years old, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida to enroll at The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. This was when his talent started getting noticed. Eventually, the young musician caught the eye of the Ritz Theater’s director. Croker was tasked to compose music for a 17-piece band, in which he was also the lead. His first album entitled The Fundamentals came out in 2006. Young as he is, he has already played with and alongside respected musicians such as Billy Hart, Marcus Belgrave, and Benny Powell. Award-winning composer and recording artist Donald Byrd describes Croker as a “phenomenal instrumentalist.” Escape Velocity features the young musician and DVRK FUNK (his group) performing a variety of exceptional acoustic and electronic jazz.

5. Culcha Vulcha by Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy is perhaps the only one on this list that is an ensemble. This instrumental group, which is based in Brooklyn, likes to improvise. They like experimenting with different music genres. Group leader Michael League describes Snarky Puppy as “a pop band that improvises a lot, without vocals.” The group’s first album came out in 2006, and it was called The Only Constant. They won the 2014 for Best R&B Performance, their first ever, along with Lalah Hathaway. Their 2015 album Sylvia is the recipient of the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Their newest album, Culcha Vulcha, is a musical trip that features New Orleans parade rhythms, percussions, Mediterranean music, and psychedelic funk. Each track is rendered more powerfully creative by the group’s signature orchestral groove.