20 Best Avant Albums of 2016

The year's best in ambient, noise, out-jazz, synth music, contemporary composition and more

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

This landmark collaboration between a genre-hopping modern MacArthur Fellow and a veteran avant-jazz icon quietly launches two busy players into something minimal, cinematic and eerily ambient. Though certainly understandable as a part of ECM Records' 40-year lineage, A Cosmic Rhythm is less like labelmates Keith Jarrett or Don Cherry, and a more like an electronics-indebted companion to the ice-cold Raster Norton micro-jazz of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Iyer's piano is more textural than anything, a tender subsonic Satie burble of reserved patterns and gentle cascades. Smith, conversely, has a perfectly clear and ringing trumpet, taking long expressive cries and huge equally expressive pauses. Beautiful and austere: Think Miles Davis' Ascenseur Pour l'Échafaud soundtrack for the age of artificial-intelligence flicks.

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