1. Nels Cline, Lovers (Blue Note) – Guitarist Nels Cline is known for attacking his fretboard; just listen to his solo recordings and his collaboration with Wilco. But on his Blue Note debut, Lovers, Cline’s playing is fluid and airy. This double album was inspired by legendary jazz guitarist Jim Hall and includes stunning Cline originals plus poignant renderings of jazz standards.
2. Donny McCaslin, Beyond Now (Motema) – Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his group collaborated with Davie Bowie on his final album, Blackstar. While McCaslin played remarkably on the album, he takes things to another level on Beyond Now, a project influenced by his time with Bowie. No stranger to working at the intersection of electronica and improvisation, McCaslin has created something exceptional.
3. Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM) – While pianist Vijay Iyer has released a number of significant albums under his own name and performed with his own projects, he’s also been part of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet. On their duet album, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, the instinctive rapport between the two musicians is more than evident, whether the songs are fluid and textural (“The Empty Mind Receives") or have sharper corners (“Labyrinths”).
4. Jack DeJohnette/Matt Garrison/Ravi Coltrane, In Movement (ECM) – The eminent drummer Jack DeJohnette has long been a guru of nuance while being equally at home propelling rhythms with a youthful vigor. Both tendencies are noticeable on this superb album. Joined by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matt Garrison, the offspring of late jazz greats John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison (DeJohnette sat in with the senior Coltrane’s group five decades ago), the trio has one foot steeped in jazz tradition and the other pointed toward the future.
5. Charles Lloyd & the Marvels, I Long to See You (Blue Note) – It’s clear from seeing master saxophonist Charles Lloyd and guitarist Bill Frisell perform that they’ve got a connection that transcends music. There’s something inherently natural about the way they interact, and it's more than evident on this recording, which also showcases longtime Frisell cohort pedal-steel guitarist Greg Leisz.
Read on for the rest of the best jazz albums of 2016.