Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums

Like a lot of other wannabe music critics, I sat down to write a Top Albums of 2016 list that would let me weigh in on what I thought the best new albums of a wild year in music were. As I got to reflecting on the past twelve months in music, I found that the new releases only represented a portion of my musical experience. How could I talk about my favorite new artists without mentioning the ones I had discovered (or rediscovered) in 2016?

A major influence on my listening habits developed this year when I finally built up a respectable record collection, after years of exclusively downloading and streaming music. This development alone represented a bulk of my musical appetite, having found a new appreciation for classics that were made for the medium of vinyl in the first place. I couldn’t possibly talk about new music without at least mentioning some of my 12” favorites.

2016 was also the year that I got serious about digging into jazz, an art form that had largely escaped me for most of my life, despite my affinity for hip hop and basketball covertly grooming me for an appreciation of the improvisational nature of the genre. It also helped that I got to see some of the best live jazz in Charlotte in person each month through Jazz at the Bechtler.

That’s where I choose to start this comprehensive, multi-part post detailing my year in music. I’ll start with jazz, go on to my favorite vinyls that I acquired in 2016, detail some of my least favorite albums of the year, shout out some of my favorites that didn’t make the Top 15 cut, show some love to the best local projects of the year, and finish with my Top 15 Albums of the year.

2016 was a year that probably won’t fade into obscurity any time soon, especially for music fans. It only makes sense that I document what the year in music meant to me, as it was probably one of the most significant years in my life in terms of musical development.

Buckle up, readers. We’re about to depart on one hell of a sonic journey.

Top Jazz Albums

In 2016, I listened to far more jazz than any other genre in total and 99% percent of those albums were certainly not made in 2016. Up until this past year, I hadn’t given the genre enough run despite being casually primed into jazz via years of hip-hop. I’ve also been lucky enough to be present for a year’s worth of #BechtlerJazz shows which let me experience the genre in its purest form. So to make a list talking about my favorite music of 2016, I’d be remiss to not at least include my top, let’s say seven jazz albums I’ve discovered in 2016. Also, for my friends that know jazz, hit me up and let me know what else I should be checking out.

Getz/Gilberto

7. Getz/Gilberto: This is definitely one of the most fun listens you can have. Who doesn’t feel swanky when at a dinner party with “Girl from Ipanema” playing in the background?

6. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else: A true core collection type of album, it features Adderley, Miles Davis, Sam and Hank Jones and Art Blakey making seriously smooth sounds.

5. Wes Montgomery – Impressions: It’s really too bad that “guitar music” is seen as old and frumpy these days because Montgomery plays licks on this record that are still scorching the earth to this day.

4. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: I’ve listened to this record prior to 2016, but I picked up a vinyl copy this year, dug into it more, and yet – still feel like I have a long way to go with discovering this album.

Grover Washington Jr. – Soul Box

3. Grover Washington Jr. – Soul Box: The B side to this record has a 30-plus minute recording of “Trouble Man” that will literally take you out of this world.

2. Ahmad Jamal – Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival 1985: This is an incredibly clean, clear and crisp recording of one of fiercest jazz piano performances I’ve ever heard.

1. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters: OK, so I’ve listened to this album way before 2016, but this year I got the vinyl and was able to listen to it properly, so perhaps that adds an asterisk to the top spot but hey – it’s my list. I have to shout out this record as being one of the funkiest and most mind bending albums out there, and Herbie Hancock as being such a master of the genre that he really becomes his own sub-style of jazz that absolutely no one has sounded like before or since.

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

First Listen: Anderson .Paak – “Malibu”

Throughout his entire career, Dr. Dre has been many things (revolutionary producer, acceptable rapper, tenuous business man and more), but what’s the one thing that he has probably excelled at the most for the longest duration? Having an impeccable ear for talent. His list of protégés reads like a first-ballot hip-hop Hall of Fame list: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game and the list goes on.

Despite a soul-sucking decade-plus long wait and counting for Dre’s theoretical next album Detox, his ability to find engaging new artists is still as sharp as ever, as evidenced by Malibu the second LP from LA singer, rapper, drummer and producer Anderson .Paak.

Malibu is a mix of many things stylistically: hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul, funk and disco, each gently contributing to the flow of the album while graciously not dominating it. This swirling mix of sounds is rooted in a storyline uniting the narrative of the album, .Paak’s story of growing up in the chaotic and unforgiving LA streets. “Your moms’ in prison / your father need a new kidney / your family’s splitting / rivalries between siblings / if cash ain’t king it’s damn sure the incentive”, .Paak raps on “The Season | Carry Me”. The tone of the album, however, is anything but a bummer. There’s ample energy and flair for the duration, but .Paak does an excellent job of grounding it in a self-aware story.

.Paak, of Black and Korean descent, is a drummer by trade. Everything on Malibu is based around the percussion and rhythm, which is smooth, has a good bounce and sets the tone for the swagged-out feel of the album. It’s hard to put on this record and not want to nod your head (as Dre used to say) to many of the lush grooves here. As mentioned above, several styles are represented here, and .Paak blends them masterfully. Each genre is the result of a deep working knowledge and respect for that sound, but .Paak’s ability to make each bend to the will of his persona and story is what makes this album good. .Paak – the stylized “.” in his name, according to him, represents the “details”, which are what got him to where he is – is clearly knowledgeable about each of the styles he wants to use.

The opening track, “The Bird”, quickly establishes a smooth feel, as .Paak gently croons about his fractured family dynamic over a mid-tempo drum, piano and guitar line with a welcomed saxophone solo line on top. “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” pushes the tempo dial up, however, with a bouncy two-step beat and decadent drum-fill chorus.

Malibu starts trying on different sonic outfits at this point. “The Waters” sound like a cut off of a D’Angelo album with a smoky bassline, hazy drums, and a rapid-fire lyrical flow backed up by a soulful harmony section. The obligatory radio-ready track is next, but it hardly feels like it. “The Season | Carry Me” is a twofer, with the first track produced by Raleigh-based soul sample master 9th Wonder, and the latter a Callum Conner work, both are beat-heavy hip-hop tracks that play perfectly off one another.

via youtube.com

.Paak is assisted by some heavy hip-hop names (no doubt the benefit of working with Dre) such as producers 9th Wonder, Madlib and Hi-Tek; and rappers Schoolboy Q, The (aforementioned) Game, Talib Kweli and North Carolina’s own Rapsody, but the album is clearly .Paak’s. His style of vocally singing and rapping while hitting each point in between sounds fresh through the full listen. His voice is slightly raspy and nasal, but easily conveys the cool tone of the album. The lyrics are tight and the hooks are constructed out of some very catchy melodies.

“Put Me Thru” has a heavy rock and jazz influence, with a clean, funky guitar sound in the verse, which transforms into a distortion-filled force during the chorus. “Am I Wrong” is a take on a dance song, reminiscent of the feel on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. “Without You” goes back to hip-hop roots and features a heartbroken Rapsody rhyming over a boom-bap beat.

The album isn’t without it’s flaws. Some of the tracks could easily have been left off, sounding more like half-baked song ideas, rather than fully-fledged songs. “Parking Lot”, “Lite Weight” and “Water Fall (Interluuube)”, while evidence of a solid element or two to build on, don’t go anywhere after that. Adding to that is that all three of those tracks surround an otherwise healthy song (“Room in Here”), drowning out that track’s energy ever so slightly.

.Paak makes up for it with the next two tracks, which really drive the second half of the album. “Your Prime” features a staccato flow that could have been a feature on To Pimp a Butterfly. Ironically, “Come Down” is similar to the filler songs I mentioned before, but instead of half-baked beats, this song is anchored by a spectacular, ill-mannered and boastful bass line that would make Bootsy Collins bashful. However, there’s not much more to the song besides the bass line and a two quick verse/chorus exchanges.

The album closes with the ambitious but clumsy “Silicon Valley”, and the nostalgia-fueled sunny-day vibes of “Celebrate” and “The Dreamer”. It’s at this point in the album, however, that the strain from the less-than-necessary tracks take their toll. As an entertainer of any kind, you always want to leave the audience wanting more and these tracks rob Malibu of that feeling in the long run.

Overall, Malibu is essential listening in this young year. A fresh sound from a fresh name, one that honors the magic of the past, while taking the sound into the future. From rapping to singing and even producing a few of the tracks on this album, Anderson .Paak shows that he has the talent and the ambition to build a name off of. Dr. Dre, meanwhile, continues his streak of finding diamonds in the rough.