Trying to tally the year’s “best” recordings is a thankless task, not least because there’s no realistic chance anyone has heard everything.… every listener’s taste is individual, and focus can be contingent upon situation. All of which said, the following lists comprise the new recordings and archival projects that impressed and moved me most in 2016, with an appendix of still more albums that brightened this year.
About Steve Smith
I’ve been involved professionally in music and media for close to 30 years, and personally for perhaps a decade longer. Apart from a two-year sojourn in Boston, I’ve been based in or around New York City since June 1993. After a long string of roles and positions in mass media, I’ve recently taken up the role of director of publications at National Sawdust, a revolutionary young performing-arts venue and incubator in Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn. You can learn more about that venture at nationalsawdust.org.
My work email address, for press releases, pitches, potential contributions, and whatnot, is email@example.com.
Prior to joining National Sawdust, I spent just over two years as an assistant arts editor at the Boston Globe, where I had the privilege of overseeing that esteemed newspaper’s coverage of music and the visual arts. Before that, I served for 13 years as a music editor (first classical music, and then everything) for Time Out New York, and for seven years concurrently as a freelance classical-music reporter and reviewer for The New York Times.
While nearly all of my work is now focused on National Sawdust, I continue to contribute interviews and concert and CD reviews for RollingStone.com. My writing has appeared previously in the Washington Post, Village Voice, Billboard, Musical America, The Wire, Signal to Noise [RIP], Decibel, Jazziz, Jazz Times, Down Beat, Chamber Music, and Symphony magazines.
Before turning to journalism full time, I was a classical radio DJ in Houston, and then worked as a publicist at BMG Classics, the Knitting Factory, Third Floor Media (representing the Columbia Records jazz roster, the Village Vanguard, select projects on Blue Note Records, and more), and other NYC organizations. Artists with whom I worked directly include Tim Berne, Bobby Previte, Dave Douglas, and Ellery Eskelin.
I trained formally as a classical percussionist, and then put those skills to use with jazz and rock bands in Houston and New York. I graduated from Clear Creek High School in League City, TX, in 1984, and from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, in 1988. I’m married to Dr. Lara Pellegrinelli, an accomplished journalist, critic, and academic. Our daughter, Annina, is a budding singer, dancer, painter, and social-media superstar.
If you want to send something to me via snail mail, please drop me a line via email first to determine the best destination.
Entries by Steve Smith
For anyone expecting a painstakingly winnowed-down, tightly focused tabulation of the most significant events to take place in the musical world circa 2016: I apologize, but you’ll have to look elsewhere. Even so, it’s not at all difficult to name 10 meaningful and affecting musical performances I witnessed this year.
For all the manifold benefits that come with being a music journalist and critic embedded at a performing-arts incubator and presenter – and they are substantial – one meaningful constraint is that it feels inappropriate now to include my employer’s projects and products among my year-end best-of listings. What follows is a concise tally of NS-related events and releases that under other circumstances absolutely would have figured into my own personal summaries of the year’s most vital art.
The Attacca Quartet, soon to launch its new “Recently Added” concert series with a program devoted to music by Caroline Shaw, chats with Shaw about her development and process.
As far back as I can remember, music has always been my means of navigating the world. But words have always been a second and equal love. In the past month, I’ve turned extensively to words I love after a baffling election.
Seasoned saxophonist, composer and bandleader Tim Berne talked about his long creative partnership with guitarist David Torn and his burgeoning relationship with ECM Records, under whose banner Sun of Goldfinger (featuring Berne and Torn) plays National Sawdust Dec. 3.
The Dec. 2 print edition of the Boston Globe includes a terrific profile of the Dutch pianist Reinier Van Houdt, who has just released a new 3CD set of Michael Pisaro’s music and will perform in Boston, New York, and Minneapolis.
Composer and instrumentalist Leo Svirsky’s impressively tricky to get a handle on. His latest album, Heights in Depths, a tightly focused study in minimalism (in the original sense) for solo accordion, mixes confrontational intensity with contemplative calm.
I was struck, on learning late last week via social media that the composer, improviser, and teacher Pauline Oliveros had passed away on Thanksgiving morning, by how many of her friends, colleagues, and admirers posted something to the effect of “I thought she’d always be here.” And it was true: Pauline had meant so much to so many of us for so long, for a wide variety of different reasons, that it seemed her presence might continue indefinitely.