Home > Album Reviews, Lists & Favorites > * Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2009 *

* Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2009 *

31st Dec 09 (Thu) Leave a comment Go to comments

Disclaimer (with a nod to Andy Whitman of Paste): No, I haven’t heard all 8,000+albums released this year. I’ve heard about 200 of them, which makes me at least 97.5% likely to be wrong. I make no claims to objectivity. These albums are my favorites from 2009. You might think that the one you’ve heard that I haven’t heard is the best album of 2009. And you might be right. So go ahead and vent. Enjoy!

As I start this post, I will say that this is all very subjective and really put together for my own purposes. I’ll also state that, yes, some of the music below does have some vocals. For the most part, it’s sequestered to a track or two on a long CD of mostly instrumental goodness. My list, my rules, and/or my breaking of the rules. With that being said, all of the artists below tend to be in the jazz and instrumental frame of reference anyway.

Hopefully my spilling out of music that I like finds interest with someone else. But if not, thanks for stopping by… check out their webpages, SpaceBook pages, yadda yadda yadda. OK, now on to the best of what’s hit my ears this year on the mainly instrumental front…

Honorable mentions: Uri Gurvich‘s The Storyteller, John Zorn‘s Filmworks XXIII: El General, AhleuchatistasOf the Body Prone, Secret Chiefs 3‘s Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini (The Severed Right Hands of the Last Men), and Skerik & The Dead Kenny G’s Bewildered Herd.

Osso String QuartetRun Rabbit Run: A Tribute to Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit (Asthmatic Kitty) :: I feel lucky that I got to witness the world premiere of Osso playing Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit at MusicNOW Fest 2007 in Cincinnati. I think almost immediately after that show, I emailed Asthmatic Kitty to see if they were going to release audio or video of that performance. Little did I know that they’d do me one better by putting Osso into a studio to record the full length stringed tribute. Huzzah! While the novelty of the initial project has worn off for me, the musical arrangements stand firm. I really dig Osso and I’m looking forward to their further collaboration with Sufjan, My Brightest Diamond, or their own pieces.
Mike PattonCrank High Voltage Score (Lions Gate) :: Well, Mike Patton pretty much took a year off of Ipecac stuff due to Faith No More reuniting. I supposed this score satiated me, but I would have loved for Mondo Cane to make its way out the door in 2009 (as was initially promised by Patton himself). Anyway, this album has a couple of vocal tracks, but overall, it features Mike’s voicebox gymnastics and razor-edged composition schizophrenia that I’ve loved since I first got into Mr. Bungle… Fantômas… and the rest of his vast body of work…
Feldman / Caine / Cohen / BaronSecrets (Tzadik) :: This album snuck on me as I was re-listening to my 2009 CDs. It has that klezmer jazz feel as is common in the Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture series, but it also has a much more accessible feel as well. With Uri Caine’s piano in the mix, he almost adds a Vince Guaraldi aspect to the klez-jazz that permeates.
Jónsi & AlexRiceboy Sleeps (indie) :: Sigur Rós is one of my favorite groups, and a few years ago frontman Jónsi started an arty project with his partner Alex. At first it was a hand-printed notebook and a few musical things on MySpace, but it transformed into a full album as time went along. It’s much more ambient when compared to Sigur Rós – but definitely appeals to fans of Jónsi’s main band. In other news… they have a raw, vegan cookbook PDF on their website (for free)… holy cow… I’m totally gonna make some raw strawberry pie when the season comes around. That and many other recipes look flippin’ delicious… much like the music. Yeah, this is a music blog, right? Sorry for my drooling over “Icelandic rockstar” recipe books.
Wadada Leo Smith with Jack DeJohnetteAmerica (Tzadik) :: I love trumpet… I have some of Wadada’s other work, and I usually find it to be hit or miss. I wasn’t coming in with a lot of preconceptions or whetted appetite about this album, and after the first spin, I loved it. It’s fairly sparse sonically, with only Wadada on trumpet & flugelhorn and Jack on drums. The sound from his horns is so brilliant and melodic, yet searching. I hope they can get together for a 2nd duo outing sometime soon. This wins my “best surprise” award for instrumental albums in 2009.
The Fantastic Terrific MunkleMusic To Dance To (Jazz Groove Australia) :: I got into the Fantastic Terrific Munkle via band member Julian Curwin, who put out his fantastic Tango Saloon out on Ipecac a few years ago. Munkle and Tango Saloon have similar jazz meets groove meets world music meets danceable rhythms. This one was harder to get, as I had to directly order it from Australia (but at least they accept PayPal in US dollars). I wish I could find similar luck with Tango Saloon’s second album, Transylvania (still no stateside release, and the AUD to USD conversion is killin’ me these days).
900XMusic for Lubbock, 1980 (Asthmatic Kitty) :: I got this download for free from Asthmatic Kitty along with the other Library Catalog Music Series (they’re great in supplying review subjects to music bloggers), and the 900X album simply surpassed the others in the collection, if you ask me. I ended up buying it on vinyl… a great addition to the collection. I don’t know if 900x (or James McAlister dba 900x) have any future plans for further releases of this nature. I hope so.
McTuff (Skerik & Joe Doria)McTuff, Volume 1 (indie) :: Joe Doria’s tribute to Jack McDuff has turned into a great Northwest jazz quartet (and trio when Skerik isn’t available). I’m lucky to have seen them a couple times thus far. Skerik’s sax is fantastic, Doria’s hammond keeps the groove, Lewis’s drums are killer, and Coe’s guitars really know how to burn (which I didn’t really pick up on until the 2nd time seeing them live).
Roberto RodriguezThe First Basket (Tzadik) :: Roberto Rodriguez’s Cuban-meets-Judaic music have been some of my favorites out of Tzadik the last few years… this one was a bit different. It’s a score to a film (of the same name) that follows the history of Jewish basketball… its scope covers klezmer, classical, rock, dixieland, and more. Its variety is what helped this album beat out his other 2009 album from the list this year (Timba Talmud is also really good).

Medeski Martin & WoodRadiolarians II & III (Indirecto) :: Starting in 2008, MMW set out to record three albums back to back to back, heading out on a short tour before each album and going directly into the studio and then out on the road again. They swung through Eugene in late 2008 as part of the Radiolarians III Tour. By that time, only R1 had come out; so the crowd didn’t really know the material being played. They played two sets, one set of experimental meets groove and one set of the eventual R3 material. Near the end of 2009, they released the Evolutionary Boxset (all Radiolarians albums with tons of extras: vinyl/live/remixes/DVDs)… great material from a fantastic groove-oriented jazz band. I’m stoked, as they’re coming through Eugene again in Feb 2010. Yay!
Wynton MarsalisHe and She (EMI Blue Note) :: Wynton is a great trumpet player, puts on a great live show, writes and releases great music, and he’s also a jazz bigot. Sigh.
Eyal Maoz’s EdomHope and Destruction (Tzadik) :: Great Jewish instrumental rock. I dug Eyal’s first album, Edom. It appears he’s made an official band out of it… yay. I don’t have much else to add; so I’ll leave it with Tzadik’s P.R. niblit… “Hope and Destruction presents powerful Jewish rock instrumentals from a cutting edge guitarist who combines the harmonic lyricism of Bill Frisell with the angst and skronk of Marc Ribot.” Ribot and Frisell influences… me likey.
Jon Madof’s RashanimThe Gathering (Tzadik) :: Similar but a bit rockier compared to Eyal Maoz’s Edom, Jon Madof has been on my radar since his first instrumental Jewish rock album, Rashanim (which subsequently turned into the band name similar to Edom’s recent evolution). Anyway, this is Madof’s third album under this band moniker. Guitars, bass, drums… banjo… banjo bass… jaw harp… glockenspiel… melodica… tiple… chonguri… it all sounds great!! Jon also has another band called CircuitBreaker that I’m waiting on with baited breath.
Stabat AkishStabat Akish (Tzadik) :: From Toulouse, France, this is one of those rare Tzadik releases that fits into the “Composer Series” that doesn’t bore me to tears. Don’t get me wrong, there are some gems in the CS catalogue, but most of them are violin noodlers. This is more of the rock band variety of composers. It has elements of French street music (which I witnessed first hand in Toulouse, coincidentally), elements of Zorn’s schizophrenia, and elements of the ever excellent Frank Zappa… thanks to the vibraphone and bass marimba acrobatics.
ZuCarboniferous (Ipecac) :: I got this due to Mike Patton’s involvement… he actually sings on one track (and vocal instrumentation on another). Despite that Patton vocal song, this is definitely an instrumental band and a chiefly instrumental album. Zu is powerful rock from Rome, sometimes lumped in with the math rock scene, sometimes with metal. They have had their hand in the jazz scene in the past, too (their album placed in The Village Voice‘s 2004 jazz poll). This album is my only experience with them, but I hope to get into their diverse and vast back catalogue soon.
SF Jazz CollectiveLive 2009 (SF Jazz) :: SFJC 2010 will not quite be the same… they lost Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, and Miguel Zenon – all key players in the 2007 through 2009 seasons. This 2009 season was dedicated to the music of McCoy Tyner and also features great compositions by the eight members of the band. It is truly a collective of many great musicians, not just a band fronted by a few.
Tim SparksLittle Princess: Tim Sparks plays Naftule Brandwein (Tzadik) :: A fingerstyle guitar virtuoso, I’d heard Tim on some other Tzadik releases, but I think this one is my favorite of his. This album is a trio of Tim, Cyro Baptista on percussion, and Greg Cohen on bass. I think the added players helped fill out Tim’s sound – which was awesomely virtuosic, but a touch too sparse on prior releases.
Dave DouglasA Single Sky (Greenleaf) :: This was the third of three Dave Douglas releases this year. It features three new Dave Douglas tunes and four rearranged Douglas tunes by Jim McNeely and his Frankfurt Radio Bigband. The entire album has a great big band feel, something I’m a sucker for – obviously. I love Dave Douglas’s prolific nature – 2009 was good to his fans.
John ZornAlhambra Love Songs (Tzadik) :: One of the more accessible albums in Zorn’s catalogue, this is his ode to his favorite San Francisco Bay Area artists and musicians: Vince Guaraldi, Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, Mike Patton, Harry Smith, and more. The music is played by the Rob Burger Trio (Rob + Greg Cohen & Ben Perowsky). The albums leads off with the very Guaraldian tribute to Vince himself – “Mountain View.”
Dave Douglas & Brass EcstasySpirit Moves (Greenleaf) :: Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy is coming to Portland / PDX Jazz Fest this coming February! I’m so stoked. This band features Dave on trumpet, Vincent Chancey (French horn), Luis Bonilla (trombone), Marcus Rojas (tuba) and Nasheet Waits (drums). The tuba really adds that bouncy backbone that I love (I’m also a fan of the rockier band Drums & Tuba). Check out DD&BE’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert (video).
Sufjan StevensThe BQE (Asthmatic Kitty) :: It is atrociously difficult to read the lettering on the front cover… maybe as easy as navigating the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in rush hour. This was Sufjan’s first foray into studio album land since the Avalanche (but that was more of a b-side collection of 2005’s Illinoise). Anyway… it’s a moving, 40 minute piece dedicated to NYC’s traffic clusterbomb. It comes with a film to accompany it, and if you get the double-gatefold vinyl, you get a spiffy comic book written by Sufjan and a fantastic full-color booklet. I like it how Sufjan “keeps it weird” when he’s “keeping it real.”
John ZornO’o (Tzadik) :: While the music is stunning, I think longtime Tzadik artwork designer Chippy deserves a ton of credit as well. This album is the band from The Dreamers: Baptista, Baron, Dunn, Ribot, Saft, and Wollesen. It carries on that world music / surf / exotica sound, but adds the element of nature: being a tribute to rare birds (the album is named after an extinct Hawaiian bird).
Tides from NebulaAura (indie from Poland) :: Tides of Nebula is powerful, evocative progressive post-rock goodness from Poland. They have links on their MySpace page on how to get their CD. It’s really, really, really, good. It combines the huge sound from post-rock giants like Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai, but adds a tight edge as well – similar to if Brit progressive rockers Porcupine Tree tweaked some Explosions or Mogwai songs. This is one of those bands and albums that I had no idea about even this summer, and then out of nowhere – BAM! Way up to the top of the pile. I’m looking forward to more from this great group.
Masada Quintet & Joe Lovano play Masada Book Two: Book of Angels, Vol. 12: Stolas (Tzadik) :: The original Masada quartet’s last studio album was in 1999. They continued as a quartet (John Zorn / Dave Douglas / Joey Baron / Greg Cohen) throughout most of the 2000s (I got to see one of their last shows in March 2007). Zorn moved on in the 2000s with writing a 2nd book of Masada tunes, not to be played by Masada, but rather interpreted by other bands. The past 11 albums in this series have been fantastic (Secret Chiefs 3, Medeski Martin & Wood, and the Bar Kokhba Sextet (related-to-but-not-Masada) albums have been my faves). I would never have imagined that Zorn would “allow” Masada to record an album for this Masada Book Two series. Well, he didn’t (sort of). He added pianist Uri Caine and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano to the mix. A great “supergroup” album!!

Where do I get most of these jazz and other instrumental releases? My #1 favorite source for jazz is Downtown Music Gallery in New York. Manny and Bruce and their great staff are superb… and being the official distributor for John Zorn’s Tzadik doesn’t hurt my affection for them. I usually do a monthly Tzadik order (if the releases strike my fancy), and they have a ton of other non-Tzadik jazz and avant-garde releases as well.

And, no, I’m not affiliated, I don’t get a commission, and beyond my initial “big tax refund / gotta get caught up on Zorn order of 2005,” I haven’t gotten a discount with DMG. I just love and support what they do.

My Other Favorites of 2009 Recaps:

~Dan – np: Brian BorcherdtTorches

  1. 31st Dec 09 (Thu) at 8:17 pm

    Zu, eh? Hmmm, I’ll also have to give them a listen. I watched the video Patton posted on his Facebook but sadly it was on mute because I was at work…so, yeah :P

  2. Mike
    1st Jan 10 (Fri) at 6:39 pm

    Wynton is not a great trumpet player.

    • 1st Jan 10 (Fri) at 7:11 pm

      Fair enough. I like him. He doesn’t beat out Dave Douglas or Steven Bernstein in my book… but I tend to like his music, generally. He [Wynton] is a jerk, though…

      ~Dan

  1. 1st Mar 10 (Mon) at 7:49 am
  2. 28th Dec 10 (Tue) at 6:27 am
  3. 29th Dec 10 (Wed) at 6:11 am
  4. 30th Dec 10 (Thu) at 12:50 pm
  5. 29th Dec 11 (Thu) at 7:19 pm
  6. 29th Dec 11 (Thu) at 7:19 pm

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