NPR 2016 Jazz Poll: Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, DeJohnette/Matt Garrison/Ron Carter, more


“Old Locks and Irregular Verbs,” the latest from Pulitzer-winning cornetist and composer Henry Threadgill, was last year’s best release. That’s according to those who voted in The 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. (I voted).

The poll’s Top 10:

1. Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

2. Wadada Leo Smith, America’s National Parks

3. Jack DeJohnette/Matt Garrison/Ravi Coltrane, In Movement

4. Mary Halvorson Octet, Away With You

5. Michael Formanek Ensemble Colossus, The Distance

6. Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke

7. Nels Cline, Lovers

8. Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family, Beginnings of a Memory

9. Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, Time/Life (Song for the Whales and Other Beings)

10. Steve Lehman & Selebeyone, Selebeyone

Rene Marie‘s Sound of Red was named best vocal disc (that was my pick, too, in that category), while best debut was a tie between Victor Gould‘s Clockwork and Ron Stabinsky‘s Free for One. The Pedrito Martinez Group‘s Habana Dreams won for best Latin jazz, and Larry Young‘s Larry Young in Paris: The ORTF Recordings was honored for best reissue.

Neither Threadgill’s disc nor either of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s two releases landed on my own Top 10 list, although I had the opportunity to hear a largely entrancing performance by Smith and pianist Vijay Iyer in July at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Here’s my JazzTimes review of what I heard at that great fest.

Four of my Top 10 picks, though — DeJohnette/Garrison/Coltrane, Matt Wilson, Jane Ira Bloom, and Aziza — do appear in the NPR poll’s Top 20.

Poll guru and esteemed jazz critic Frances Davis comments on each of the Top 10 releases, and offers the full list of the 50 picks here.

“The year belonged to what I think of as avant elders, or better yet, the avant gentry — musicians who have remained in the jazz vanguard for three to five decades now,” Davis offers in his analysis of the poll results.

And for inquiring minds … you can find the ballots of all 139 voters here.

My ballot is below:


  1. Orrin Evans, #knowingishalfthebattle (Smoke Sessions)
  2. Dave Holland-Chris Potter-Lionel Loueke-Eric Harland, Aziza (Dare2)
  3. Jack DeJohnette-Matt Garrison-Ravi Coltrane, In Movement (ECM)
  4. Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family, Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto)
  5. Nolatet, Dogs (Royal Potato Family)
  6. Jane Ira Bloom, Early Americans (Outline)
  7. Hendrik Meurkens, Harmonicus Rex (Height Advantage)
  8. Marquis Hill, The Way We Play (Concord Jazz)
  9. René Marie, Sound of Red (Motéma)
  10. John Beasley, MONK’estra, Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue)


  • René Marie, Sound of Red (Motéma)


  • Carlos Henriquez, The Bronx Pyramid (Blue Engine -15)


  • Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band, ¡Intenso! (Clavo)









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