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)

What Qualifies as Music?

Music consists of three elements: rhythm, melody and harmony. If it lacks any one of those three elements, it’s not music anymore.

Back in my high school days, the most popular kind of music (according to record sales – which I never take much stock in) were boy bands. Yes, let’s hop in the way back machine to 1999. The Backstreet Boys’ Millennium, 98 Degrees and Rising, plus self-titled albums by N*Sync, Ricky Martin and Britney Spears ruled the airwaves.

The bane of my musical existence in 1999

Personally, I avoided this sugary sweet, unfulfilling and ultimately annoying brand of music. My heros of the day were Jay-Z, OutKast, Nas, Tupac and other hip-hoppers. I held their lyrical storytelling and head-nodding beats in high regard, and similarly denounced the corporate-manufactured pop music as a product of the shameless big music business machine. I still feel the same way today.

But that’s not the point of this blog. Back in the day, my friends, who also listened to hip-hop (we were few and far between in southern Indiana), also despised boy bands and pop princesses. We often trashed them with great vitriol, dismissing them as a sham of the music industry.

One argument that we used was basically this: It wasn’t real music because they didn’t play real instruments.

It seemed to make sense, given our preconceived notion that these bands were just shills for their record companies (that part I still don’t doubt). But that raises the question: What musical ability does an entertainer need in order to be considered a musician?

If you want to look at it that way, what instrument does a rapper play? In the same way JT, Lance, Joey, JC and Chris sang prepackaged harmonies, rappers would use only their voices to convey rhythm, melody and harmony. Often times, as I would later discover, using lyrics written by others. Fundamentally, some of my favorite rappers were no different than those annoying pretty boys with their stupid frosted blonde tips (can we all agree that frosted blonde tips should never EVER come back in style?).

In reality, music, like many other art forms, is a subjective experience, one that will differ from person to person. What one person sees as trash is another person’s proverbial cup of tea. While songs like “I Want it That Way” and “Bye Bye Bye” (let’s not even get into the abomination that LFO’s “Summer Girls” was) were the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to me, I cannot deny that a significant number of people my age adore those songs to this day (you know who you are).

This mentality is still very much alive today. Most notably, it takes the form of people criticizing the rise in popularity of DJs and producers, who often times perform on stage with merely a laptop and perhaps a pair of turntables. The exact same argument is used to discount the idea that because an artist is making music with electronic instruments that it is somehow not music.

Still very much music

While I personally prefer live instrumentation, music that is made electronically is no less worthy of the definition of music since it contains rhythm, melody and harmony. It may not speak to everyone, but it does speak. Hip-Hop itself was born out of DJs using two turntables and a microphone, which predated the modern day MC. In that sense, pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa are not too different from the Calvin Harris’, Steve Aoki’s and Mark Ronson’s of today.

With this in mind, pop music is no different than the polarizing views people hold in regards to works of art like Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, Damien Hirst’s “Mother and Child” and basically the entire realm of Modern Art. The beauty or apathy are truly in the eye of the beholder.

So while you won’t catch me with a One Direction, Skrillex or New Kids on the Block record any time soon, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect it as a work of art that connects and speaks to so many other people. If it makes others happy, that’s cool even if that’s not what I prefer. It still holds rhythm, melody and harmony, which meets my definition of music.

Now let me get some of that “Party in the USA”, that’s what I call rhythm, melody and harmony!