It’s the season for best-of lists, but for this and that reason I wasn’t able to put together a new version of Lecta Delecta, my annual collection of the “best ancient literature of the year.” (My friend Patrick Burns at NYU/ISAW is carrying on the tradition — scope it out at his site.) In lieu of oddball Latin, here’s some of my favorite music from 2016:
- Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Real Enemies
As one review points out, Real Enemies was imagined some time before this November’s presidential election, and it doesn’t have an overt political agenda, but it’s a fitting soundtrack as the credits roll on 2016: the album explores “the broader themes of cultural paranoia and false truth.” Regardless of these topical considerations, Argue’s mish-mash of jazz, electronic sampling, and symphonic modernism is solid from start to finish.
Kadhja Bonet, The Visitor
I think I originally found Bonet’s album through NPR, which has covered it a couple times. She’s a striking vocalist, and her classical training as a violinist shows in the strings that she incorporates throughout the album. It’s hard to pin down the decade that this album could fit in, a good sign of its freshness.
Isabelle Faust, Il Giardino Armonico, and Giovanni Antonini, Mozart: Violin Concertos
I love Isabelle Faust’s violin performances, and her collaboration with Alexander Melnikov on Beethoven’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano remains a favorite classical album from the past several years. Mozart isn’t normally my composer of choice, to be honest, but the playing here on period instruments is top-notch.
Johnnie Frierson, Have You Been Good to Yourself
Found in a thrift store, Frierson’s Have You Been Good to Yourself is a lo-fi, immediate picture of the American South. It’s a reminder of my former life in rural Arkansas and all its characters — in Frierson’s Memphis, for instance, we find a “Space Man” who performs the everyday miracles of auto shop work.
Fred Hersch, Sunday Night at the Vanguard
Another great jazz album, from Evans-style ballads like “For No One” to more erratic tracks like “We See.” Hersch’s own “Valentine,” played as an encore for this recording, has the lyricism of a melancholic Christmas standard and perhaps is an appropriate final track for the year.
Post Scriptum: This year I also unearthed some older gems: German music from early 20th-century cinema, including works by Friedrich Holländer and Robert Stolz, and this 1979 new wave from Japan. Not new, still great.