When words fail, music speaks. Whether it’s an astounding display of virtuosity, a relaxing jam or an experimental soundscape, some songs can move us without uttering a breath.
This week, we’re letting the music do the talking.
I like instrumental music of many varieties, but there’s something lyrical about Alice Coltrane’s music that makes it very special. Combining free jazz’s sense of freedom with a soaring melodic voice on the harp, as well as a musical exploration of her interest in Indian spirituality, “Journey in Satchidananda” is one of her finest works. Cecil McBee’s rock-steady and haunting bassline really elevates this song.
Clarence White and Gene Parsons re-invented the Fender Telecaster by routing the back of the body and inserting a dog-leg caliper between the bridge and the strap button, thus allowing the player to bend the B-string with a simple gesture. Their intention was to get a six-string electric guitar to sound like a pedal steel. But as exemplified by this instrumental cover, the modification soon defined Californian “cosmic American” country-rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The opening track on Funkadelic’s 1971 album of the same name was a bold, beautiful move. Apart from a brief spoken word invocation at the very beginning, it’s a 10+ minute instrumental that mainly consists of one of the most lovely, achingly emotive extended electric guitar solos ever, courtesy of the late Eddie Hazel. For his playing on this track alone, he’s eternally assured a place in the psychedelic guitar god pantheon alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Can’s Michael Karoli.
This aggressive jam is beyond cool. I love the unique instrumental parts, jazzy overtones and sequenced drums. You can tell each member is working together when you watch the band play it live.
Stunningly stark and beautiful, this piece reminds me of being outdoors on a fresh arctic morning, or what it might sound like to be Björk.
I first heard this song at a Chicago warehouse. I couldn’t remember the song the next day, I had no idea who produced it, and couldn’t find it anywhere online. A year later, I found it, and it’s still one of my favorites. The intro is ridiculously long, plus the sax is dynamite.
A sublime version of a classic Cuban son, with trumpet by Alejandro “El Negro” Vivar.
I have so many favorite instrumental songs. In fact, it’s usually singers that spoil things for me. I’m kind of in a cosmic new age-y zone, so I’m going with this pick from 1978. It’s definitely new age, but more cinematic and soundscapey, elegiac and somber. It’s also one of the most beautiful pieces of music I know.
I’ve always loved the moods dub reggae can convey, and in the hands of a master producer/engineer like Scientist, the forlorn wailing of Johnny Osbourne’s “Universal Love” is transformed into an ominous, echo-drenched walk down a dark alley. Simple, moody, melancholy, and sublime.
I had a hard time picking just one instrumental track that I like, but this was the first to come to mind. Despite the song’s lack of lyrics, I can understand 100 percent of what Vini Reilly is trying to communicate. It’s deep, introspective, moody post-punk, and it’s beautiful.
This was a tough one — there’s so much great instrumental music in so many genres. I decided to pick an instrumental track that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. This seven-minute track by producer Huerco S. represents a shift in his sound. His output last year was largely ambient relative to his previous lo-fi house and techno productions. This track represents some of the best of his recent material. It’s hard to put a finger on why, but when I listen to this song, I’m lost yet grounded. I’m heartbroken and comforted, curious and content. Even though musically, the track doesn’t really shift, evolve, grow or even decay in any significant way, I’ve been strangely drawn to its repeating melodies.