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Curtis Brothers Quartet - 'Syzygy'

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

The Curtis Brothers Quartet's new album, Syzygy is dropping in mid-December where it will be (very) unfortunately overlooked as critics and listeners turn our collective attention to 'best of 2016' lists (nextbop included, of course). Don't make that mistake.

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Ben Gray's Favorite Jazz Albums of 2016

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

A quick pre-amble: jazz is so diverse that it’s near-impossible to compare and rank the "best" albums of the year (Editor's note: which is why Nextbop refers to these lists as our "favorites" as opposed to "the best", because words are important). How does one rank Julian Lage, Darcy James Argue, Takuya Kuroda, and Brad Mehldau against each other? The answer of course is that one doesn’t - you listen to what moves you, when it moves you. The broadness of the jazz genre also brings up the interesting question of what to even include in these comparisons, particularly for things that are maybe on the edge of "jazz." What makes a jazz album jazz? Solos? Extended harmony? Inclusion of a jazz standard? (What’s a jazz standard in 2016? "Teen Spirit?")

So ok, these lists are, at least at some level, irrelevant. That said, 2016 has been a bounty of music, both jazz and otherwise. There are a bunch of things that have really impressed this year and why not take the opportunity to celebrate them?

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Aviation Trio - 'Lookout Point Session'

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Aviation Trio (drummer Jeremy Jones, bassist Alex Dyring, and pianist Shawn Schlogel) have produced a new EP, Lookout Point Session, that is full of strong grooves, great playing, and fun compositions. In short, here’s what modern jazz can do. The 3-song EP from the Seattle-based trio has the requisite Dilla-inspired drum grooves and hip-hop/soul-inspired compositions that one might expect from a group of young musicians in 2016, but this trio pulls it off in a way that few others can.

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"And I Love Her": A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Brad Mehldau has a reputation for building beautiful piano trio versions of pop songs, notably including a lot of Beatles material. His trio release from earlier this year, Blues & Ballads, includes a fantastic version of "And I Love Her" with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. More recently, Gilad Hekselman, Petros Klampanis, and Ziv Ravitz played a trio concert with that they've titled Across the Rooftop featuring their takes on Beatles tunes. They're releasing the videos from that concert one song at a time, starting with "Across the Universe" and most recently releasing their own version of "And I Love Her". So it seems that these two independently conceived of versions of the tune are worth a listen, no?

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Butcher Brown - 'Virginia Noir'

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

It's no secret that Butcher Brown gets love around here. The relative quiet around the release of their new album Virginia Noir needs to be remedied, since this might well be the quartet's best release yet. The band has continued to grow with time as well as through its many collaborations (maybe you caught them on Nicholas Payton's Numbers) and side projects (see Corey Fonville playing with Christian Scott, among others, and DJ Harrison's many solo releases, to name a few). On Virginia Noir, they've gravitated toward strong, funky grooves and relatively minimal solos from the band members.