Home > Album Reviews, Lists & Favorites > * Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2010 *

* Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2010 *

30th Dec 10 (Thu) Leave a comment Go to comments

Disclaimer: No, I haven’t heard all 8,000+albums released this year. I’ve heard about 120 of them, which makes me at least 98.5% likely to be wrong. I make no claims to objectivity. These albums are my favorites from 2010. You might think that the one you’ve heard that I haven’t heard is the best album of 2010. And you might be right. And, I while I generally agree with John Roderick about Year-End Lists, I still find it quite fun to compile my own.

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 (i.e.- the Beats Antique & Tin Hat CDs).  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.

As said before… I’ve been buying less music… or, at least a lot less mainstream (major label) music. This is also my third year now that I bought more instrumental CDs than vocal CDs. I think as I get older, I am drawn more towards jazz and other instrumental forms of expression. Hopefully my spilling out of music that I like finds interest with someone else. But if not, thanks for stopping by… check out the artists’ webpages, SpaceBook & MyFace pages, yadda yadda yadda. A lot of these also made it on to my 2010 Mix CD.

OK, now on to the best of what’s hit my ears this year…

Honorable Mentions: The Album Leaf‘s A Chorus of Storytellers, For a Minor Reflection‘s Höldum Í Átt Að Óreiðu, Yuka Honda‘s Heart Chamber Phantoms, Medeski Martin & Wood‘s The Stone Issue Four (great NFP/charity live release), and Jamie Saft‘s A Bag of Shells

Boy Eats Drum Machine20 Beats (self) :: OK, due to its title, 20 Beats had to come in at #20, right?  Regardless of wherever it hit, it’s a great album.  I first saw Boy Eats Drum Machine (aka Jon Ragel) open for That1Guy in Eugene.  I loved his turntablism, his sax playing, and his trippy sounds.  He’s a Portlander, too; so I’ve had a chance to see him twice this year.  Hopefully more in the near future…


John ZornFilmworks XXIV: The Nobel Peace Prize / In Search of the Miraculous / Interzone (Tzadik) :: John Zorn put out a ton of stuff in 2010.  Some of it didn’t make this list.  Some of it was great (these 3), and some of it was stupendous (some others higher up on the list). Filmworks XXIV is a more genteel offering. It is performed by the Rob Burger trio (and it’s a film score… duh). In Search of the Miraculous is in Zorn’s spiritual / “magick” subcategory (which has been hit or miss to me).  This album seems like a souped-up Rob Burger/Alhambra piano combo.  Quite delightful. Interzone is a return to Zorn’s “filecard” system and a tribute to William Burroughs. Some people on the Zornlist have raved about it… I find it good, but not amazing. Too much filler in the long-tracks… moments of brilliance, but also moments of meh-ness.  I’d rank it definitely better than “for the completist,” but lower than “legendary.”  All in all… solid experimental record.  The players are the usual fantastic Tzadik studio players: Medeski, Baptista, Dunn, Mori, Ribot, Wollesen and Zorn.
Mostly Other People Do the KillingForty Fort (Hot Cup) :: So, I’m a fan of composer Moppa Elliott and trumpet player Peter Evans. Peter’s solo show in Eugene a couple of years ago was an avant-garde delight. MOPDTK is a little more straight forward than Peter’s solo stuff. It’s a fun jazz group… very similar in feel and youthful, party jazz energy as Reptet (up in Seattle). This is their second album that I’ve heard but their fourth released. My favorite tracks are “Nanticoke Coke” and the title track “Forty Fort.” I’m looking forward to more from this killer band ensemble.
Masada String Trio plays John Zorn’s Masada Book Two, Volume 16: Haborym (Tzadik) :: Greg Cohen, Mark Feldman, and Erik Friedlander are fantastic players, and their contribution to the Masada Book Two series is an essential release.  One of the best of the series, and the Trio’s first studio recording in five years (last one was 2005’s Azazel #5).  Masada Book Two Sidenote: Cohen was actually in the original Masada quartet, but all of the members of the String Trio have also shown up on other MBT releases – Cohen (Astaroth #1, Lucifer #10, Stolas #12 and Baal #15), Friedlander (Volac #8, #10 and the upcoming Caym #17), and Feldman (Malphas #3 & #10).
John ZornThe Goddess (Tzadik) :: The Goddess is a continuation of In Search of the Miraculous, but I fancy it far more.  It is also a souped-up Rob Burger/Alhambra piano combo, quite lyrical and melodic.  As the title suggests, it is dedicated to the feminine.  It also features some harp work from Carol Emanuel – who unbeknownst to me until now has been on quite a bit of Zorn’s releases.
Derek WebbFeedback (INO) :: From my original writeup: Feedback is a self-proclaimed “worship album.” I also love the general aesthetics of it. It’s definitely got some electronic elements, but it has a more sweeping feel as well. Some of it feels like a mix of a happier ambiance of Amiina/Sigur Rós meets an acoustic-electronic bridge in a Sufjan Stevens song meets a gentle Ric Hordinski lyrical guitar solo (I am in a Monk mood). It’s a great quality instrumental album from a man who I loved via his witty voice from the get go. It’s nice to see him expand outside his comfort zone. As an atheist, I take it as a conduit into introspection and the worship of the divine as I see it – music.
Secret Chiefs 3Satellite Supersonic Vol 1 (Web of Mimicry) :: A new format release of the 7″ vinyl singles that SC3 put out in the Spring of 2007.  Nothing majorly new, but still nice to have in this format.  Secret Chiefs 3 fans are still waiting on Book of Souls, the follow-up to 2004’s Book of Horizons.  Who knows if we’ll ever get it… but this compilation is a great “tweener” – especially if you weren’t able to get the limited 7″ vinyls or didn’t have a record player.
John Zorn’s Moonchild Trio (with Marc Ribot) – Ipsissimus (Tzadik) :: The Moonchild Trio is one of the more experimental / scary groups.  It’s a highly composed, but seemingly improvisational group made up of Mike Patton on voice (not lyrical), Trevor Dunn on bass, and Joey Baron on drums. Ipsissimus is the fifth in the series, and includes Marc Ribot’s guitar and John Zorn’s sax for more than just one tune (like on The Crucible).  This release is not for the faint of heart.  Purely energetic, glossolaliac noise metal.
AutorYnoPastrami Bagel Social Club (Tzadik) :: I am fans of some of the other Jewish rock acts on John Zorn’s Tzadik label: like Eyal Maoz’s Edom, Jon Madof’s Rashanim, and Yoshie Fruchter’s Pitom. The description for this AutorYno debut from Tzadik was “a wild klezmer/rock fusion by this crazed band of Paris-born punk rockers… AutorYno hits with a hardedged sound and an exciting musical imagination. Full of youthful energy, massive guitar and centered by a powerful beat, they present eleven instrumentals that combine the power of rock with a taste of Jewish tradition.” Regardless of Tzadik’s usual/expected hyperbole, I couldn’t not get it. I’m glad I did.  Utterly fantastic klez-jazz-rock blend.
Tin HatForeign Legion (BAG) :: The Bay Area acoustic group is no longer a trio.  They are currently made up of Carla Kihlstedt on violin & voice, Mark Orton on guitar & dobro, Ben Goldberg on clarinets, Rob Reich on accordion & piano, and Zeena Parkins on harp.  It also features Willie Nelson on guest vocals on a track.  The album is part European explorer, part cinematic, part chamber group, part tango.  I generally by anything Carla Kihlstedt is involved in.  So far, I haven’t been steered wrong…
Beats AntiqueBlind Threshold (self) :: I got to see Zoe Jakes of Beats Antique twice this year… once with Beats Antique during Eugene Celebration, and once with the Indigo Bellydance troupe as part of their Le Serpent Rouge tour. She had a knee in a brace during Eugene Celebration; so she lended her stage presence to additional percussion instead of dance – which was unfortunate. Beats Antique is a bellydance-friendly, electronic and live instrument band from the Bay Area. Elements of Balkan music and tribal-fusion dance music. “Egyptic” is indicative of their infectuous sound.
Anakronic Electro OrkestraSpeak With Ghosts (Balagan Box) :: One of my favorite EPs of 2009 was Anakronic Electro Orkestra’s The Yiddish Part. My only complaint with the EP? It was too short. Well, in mid-November 2010, unbeknown to me at the time, they came out with their debut full-length Speak With Ghosts. AEO hail from Toulouse, France, and crank out a mighty fine mixture of drum & bass mixed with Eastern European-fused klezmer. This album is a 40+ minute shuffle through a modern klezmer forest – including one song featuring David Krakaeur (another favorite musician of mine). I think AEO is also great for fans of Beats Antique and Balkan Beat Box.
Loose GripLooking Glass (Fabrikant) :: Loose Grip is a fantastic Edinburgh-based jazz quartet led by drummer Chris Wallace. This guitar and tenor sax infused contemporary jazz band is great for fans of Chris Potter and Joe Lovano on the sax angle, great for fans of the guitar jazz like John Scofield, etc. It’s a well made record, and clearly stands out amongst the many jazz records that came out this year.
John Zorn’s The Dreamers play Masada Book Two, Volume 14: Ipos (Tzadik) :: Let’s just put this out there now… with thirteen albums and a DVD out in 2010, John Zorn might seem to have more misses than hits. Well, I don’t think there’s been a more consistent set of songs than his Masada songs, and there hasn’t been a more consistently great series than the Masada Book Two series (Zorn’s Masada songs covered by others). The Dreamers is a supergroup, too: Marc Ribot, Joey Baron, Cyro Baptista, Kenny Wollesen, Trevor Dunn and Jamie Saft – pillars in the adventurous, downtown NYC scene.
Charlie HunterGentlemen, I Neglect to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid (Spire Artist) :: One of the most amazing things from this past year was watching Charlie play live (twice). His seeming ease at which he plays bass and guitar on one instrument is stunning (and curse-worthy for the guitar aficionado in the crowd). If you weren’t watching the stage, you’d easily be fooled that it was a quartet and not a trio. It’s quite an amazing thing to see and hear. He’s so unassuming about it, too… a showman without the show-off attitude. Gentlemen came out in early 2010, and is a great melodic romp.  For prior fans of Charlie, you won’t be disappointed.  For people who aren’t yet fans… you will be.
Dave Douglas & KeystoneSpark of Being (boxset) (Greenleaf) :: Dave and his fusion group Keystone were busy with this 3-CD boxset. All three releases were inspired by Douglas’ recent collaboration with experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison on the new multi-media project Spark of Being. The first release is the soundtrack to the film.  Two additional releases, Expand and Burst, feature Douglas and Keystone exploring and interpreting the themes of the film. Expand was also available on vinyl (a first for Dave’s Greenleaf label).
Dave HollandPathways (Dare2) :: I got into Dave Holland around the same time as a lot of other jazz. I got into jazz through the backdoor (John Zorn) and then slowly moved into the more straight ahead jazz. I think I can officially blame Ken Laster and his In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond podcast for playing a lot of Dave Holland. Anyway, shortly after hearing Holland, I picked up Extended Play: Live at Birdland and Critical Mass. Both are great, but the latter is quite fetching. Pathways is a superb combo and features some amazing playing by some other favorites of mine: saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Nate Smith.  Outside of Joey Baron (Masada, etc), I think Nate Smith is one of the most entertaining drummers to see play.  I love how Dave Holland surrounds himiself with amazing players.  Great band, great record!
Holy FuckLatin (Young Turks) :: Despite what you think of their choice of band name, these Toronto band continue to put out great, groove-infused live electronic music that is both experimental and a poppy-force in the indie rock movement. Latin, their third full length album, grabbed me immediately when it came out this past May… and it’s #1 with a bullet as far as instrumental albums go in 2010. To top it off, they swung through Oregon twice this year (both excellent shows), and they put out quite possibly the cutest video for the raddest song (“Red Lights” – click the kitty to the right). The video now has over 1,000,000 views on the YouTubes. Only 900,000 views are from me.

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.

Enjoy the New Years weekend!! Be safe! See you in 2011.

My Other Favorites of 2010 Recaps:

~Dan – np: Kevin MooreShine

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