Home > Album Reviews, Lists & Favorites > * Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2011 *

* Favorite Instrumental Albums of 2011 *

31st Dec 11 (Sat) Leave a comment Go to comments

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 Goddamn Electric Bill & Mike Patton 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 fourth 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, Facebox pages, yadda yadda yadda. Some of these also made it on to my 2011 Mix CD (free streaming/download).

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

Product Details Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of Spirits plays John Zorn’s Masada Book Two: Book of Angels, Vol. 17 (Caym) :: The Masada Book two series is some of my favorite music coming out of Tzadik.  Banquet of the Spirits is the touring band of Latin percussionist Cyro Baptista, a long time Zorn collaborator.  Each track touches upon a different world tradition, steeped in Zorn’s klez-jazz score.  Lyrical and moving and fun!

Artichaut OrkestraT For Teresa :: Featuring four young musicians  from Toulouse, Artichaut Orkestra mix jazz, klezmer and classical music, blending rock energy with improv.  This is their debut record, and I’m definitely looking forward to more coming from them in the near future.
Curtis MacdonaldCommunity Immunity :: To be honest, this was an impulse purchase.  One of my favorite record labels is Greenleaf Music – founded by my favorite living trumpet-player Dave Douglas.  I was picking up some new music from DD and figured, “eh, what the hell!”  I was impressed with Curtis’ melodic compositions and emotive alto sax playing.
MogwaiHardcore Will Never Die, But You Will :: Stunning double-disc set from post-rock’s Scottish kings.  I’ll still probably forgo seeing them live again (too loud, beyond their needs), but they put out some amazingly beautiful music.

(3 CDs)
John ZornNova Express / At the Gates of Paradise / A Dreamer Christmas :: Three discs made the cut of the six Zorn releases in 2011.  Nova Express combines quirky atonal classical lyricism with a touch of the cut up techniques of Naked City and virtuosity of the Masada songbook. Zorn scored this for Joey Baron (drums), Trevor Dunn (bass), John Medeski (piano), and Kenny Wollesen (vibes).  Paradise features the same band as Nova Express, brings some Medeski organ into the mix and adds more of Zorn’s “mystical” ambiance.  The Dreamer Christmas album was an oddity for me.  Why would a Jewish jazz musician put out a Christmas album?  Because he can!  The Dreamers is one of my favorite Zorn-assembled ensembles: Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Trevor Dunn (bass), Marc Ribot (guitars), Jamie Saft (keys), and Kenny Wollesen (vibes).  Very accessible, but not smooth jazz!  Adventurous!  Mike Patton joins them on the final track for a croon-y “chestnut roasting.”  The holiday album was also put out as a 12″ vinyl and a 7″ single – both with gorgeous artwork and design by Chippy.
yMusicBeautiful Mechanical :: The yMusic Ensemble had a kickstarter earlier this year for their debut album – with songs composed by Son Lux, Annie Clark, Shara Worden (aka My Brightest Diamond), Saraha Kirkland snider (who penned a favorite album Penelope last year), and Gabriel Kahane.  Their string-heavy, indie chamber rock approach excites me.  Being the musical backdrop for My Brightest Diamond’s All Things Will Unwind album (my #2 vocal album in 2011) doesn’t hurt.
Peter Mulvey & David GoodrichNine Days Wonder :: Peter Mulvey has toured all over the US and the world for about 2 decades.  Some of the first times I saw him in concert, he had “Goody” with him on backing guitar.  They don’t get a chance to tour together much lately, but they did find some time to hole-up inside a studio to write and record some instrumental guitar duets.  While I love Peter’s vocal storytelling, it’s nice to hear his and Goody’s instrumental interplay tell a different story.
Goddamn Electric BillJazz :: GdEB is the one-man brainchild of Jason Torbert.  He hits the spot for organic electronic meets post-rock for me.  Ambient at times, melodic other times.  His latest work has featured some vocals, but he’s primarily a groove-induced soundscape kind of guy.  Chirps and glitches, too.  Excellent stuff!
The Dead Kenny G’sOperation Long Leash :: The Dead Kenny Gs is a duo started by saxophonist Skerik and drummer/vibes Mike Dillon in 2004.  shortly thereafter, they started adding Brian Haas, keyboard genius, when he is able, as well as Brad Houser, bassist from another Skerik band – Critters Buggin.  They push through the jazz/rock minefield to fight “injustice, cheese, and dishonesty in music, and society.”
TalkdemonicRuins :: Portland-based chamber-indie-post-rock… goodness.  So much sound from two people.  If you’re in Portland, they’re playing a big NYE show tonight… if in Eugene, they’ll be through our way (at Sam Bond’s) on Feb 24th.  Not to be missed!
Mike PattonThe Solitude of Prime Numbers :: I had to put this album as #13.  This chiefly instrumental album is a tribute to the book (by Paolo Giordano) and film of the same name.  The score is 16 tunes spread out over a 53 tracks, with the only tracks with content being 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, and 53. *slow clap* Clever, Mr. Patton!  For people who bought the CD, you can thank me for entering in the info to CDDB (t’was a pain).  The score/album fits more with his prior score for A Perfect Place – more accessible when compared to Patton’s usual schizophrenic output.  The packaging design is also brilliant – a gorgeous die-cut leaf that fold outwards.  I’d always recommend getting physical releases from Ipecac versus the digital download version.

Garage A TroisAlways Be Happy, But Stay Evil :: Skerik, Stanton Moore, Marco Benevento (who replaced Charlie Hunter) and Mike Dillon make their way through Oregon quite a bit.  They are a sight to see – you don’t know exactly what kind of show you’ll get, but it’s definitely a fun time.  Fun, groove-oriented “new jazz.”
Explosions in the SkyTake Care, Take Care, Take Care :: If not jazz, this list is also overtaken by post-rock.  it’s a love of mine, and Explosions in the Sky are one of the best in that game.  Epic, sweeping guitars crashing over a hearty drum & bass end.  This is another album where I’d recommend the physical edition – the  case can be unfolded to form a model of a house, where if viewed from the inside, the view from the door of the house is overlooking a tornado across a plain.

Erik FriedlanderBonebridge :: I started 2011 seeing Erik perform his John Zorn-penned Volac album in its entirety… brilliant and moving.  Later in the year, he came out with Bonebridge – a new band/concept that takes his Broken Arm Trio (with Trevor Dunn & Mike Sarin) and adds slide guitar player Doug Wamble to the mix.  What you get is a perfect chamber-Americana-jazz album.  I hope there are more where this came from…
Kevin Moore – Shine (Küçük Kıyamet Soundtrack) :: Kevin Moore’s main projects are the trippy/sample-heavy Chroma Key & heavier prog collaboration band O.S.I. (with Jim Matheos). Shine is the soundtrack to the 2006 Turkish film Küçük Kiyamet (“Little Apocalypse“).  It came out in early 2011 after a successful Kickstarter in 2010.  The next album from O.S.I. comes out in February 2012 on Metal Blade.  I can almost guarantee it will be my Top album of 2012, and I haven’t heard a shred of it yet.
ReptetAt the Cabin :: This Seattle-based jazz sextet is fuuuuuuuuuun – both on record and in the live setting.  I wish the distance on I-5 between me and them wasn’t 5-6 hours, as I’d see them far more often if I could.

Matt Chamberlain, Viktor Krauss, Dan PhelpsModular: Sonic Explorations :: Gorgeous soundscapes from Matt Chamberlain, Viktor Krauss, and Dan Phelps.  The Modular Project is the collaboration of the aforementioned musicians working together to “discover what the spontaneous and organic manipulation of sound can yield. Inspired by the world around them, they set out to discover what it might sound like when continents shift, clouds form, and roots push through soil.”  The track, “Everest,” features one of my favorite cellists – Eyvind Kang (who has worked with Secret Chiefs 3, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Mike Patton).  It’s a great mix of cello, vibes and soaring atmosphere.  The album is only available digitally or on vinyl (it’s a luscious triple-gatefold!)…

(3 CDs)
Dave Douglas – Three Views: GPS Series – Rare Metals, Orange Afternoons & Bad Mango :: Originally released as the “Greenleaf Portable Series” (download only), these three different releases in 2011 finally got a proper physical (boxset) release.  Dave’s prolific writing comes out with different bands on each record: Rare Metals features Dave’s most recent band Brass Ecstasy; Orange Afternoons features a specially put together quintet with Ravi Coltrane, Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh, and Marcus Gilmore; and Bad Mango paired Dave’s trumpet with So Percussion’s marimba, drumset, glockenspiel, musical saw, toy bells, shruti box, crotales, and more.  Three very different records tied together with Dave’s fantastic playing.

Tides From NebulaEarthshine :: This Polish post-rock group won my heart in 2009 with their debut, Aura (in 2009).  They continue to tease me with emails or news that says “tour” until I open and can’t pronounce the names of the cities that they’re hitting.  Drat!  At least their music will keep me company!  Earthshine is perfect for those fans of Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and the like… and seeing as it beat out both those groups on my 2011 list, well, that should tell you something as well.

Michael KelseySubmerged :: Michael Kelsey is a HUGE amount of what I miss from the Midwest music scene.  He’s a musical genius – rarely paralleled on the frets.  Seeing him live (which I did any chance I could) was a site to behold.  His records do their best to capture his virtuosity, but they usually fail to capture his energy, too.  Catching fire in a bottle is tough.  Regardless, this one is a gem and also marks his first all instrumental affair.  Check him out, and if you live within a state or two from central Indiana, I count you a lucky one.  Go see him if he stops by your town.

Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 :: More riff-oriented and melodic compared to the prior drone doom albums, Earth bring a cello into the mix for the first time and create an ominous soundscape that is both elegant and dreadful.  The follow-up, Angels & Demons 2, comes out in Feb 2012… and you can almost guarantee it’ll rise to the top of my list next year as well.

Note: Ric Hordinski’s Arthur’s Garden (which made it on my 2011 Mix) is technically a 2012 release, hence its absence above.

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 2012.

My Other Favorites of 2011 Recaps:

~Dan – np: Trent Reznor & Atticus RossThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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