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April 1, 2020 10:29 AM   Subscribe

What instrumental-only acoustic music/artists must must I listen to for my life to be complete?

I am living alone for the first time and I want to fill my home and my ears with all the music I haven't made time for/set aside because someone else didn't like it. What have I missed?

I am working from home so I'll have it on for 8-10 hours a day. So far I've had Chopin on (I've got classical covered) and Django Reinhardt (why did I wait so long?!).

I'm super lyrics-driven so it's got to be instrumental only, not even the occasional mouth-sound, or I won't focus on my work.

Django hits the spot because of his musicianship, the obvious joy in his playing, the seemingly endless variety and arrangements and collaborators, and the story of the man and his music. I felt like I was back in high school reading liner notes with headphones on.

Who else's playing has those qualities? Individuals or groups, any instrument(s), any style, acoustic only.
posted by headnsouth to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, American instrumental country artists who did a WILD form of instrumental Western swing in the 1950's, partly inspired by when Jimmy heard Django on the radio in WWII.

The music is borderline jazz country on insane steel guitar and electric guitar.

Stratosphere Boogie and Bryant's Bounce are a good start.
posted by twoplussix at 10:32 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Michael Hedges, Al Di Meola
posted by humboldt32 at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love listening to Steve Reich while working. Music for 18 Musicians, 2x5, Electric Counterpoint...
posted by ferret branca at 11:01 AM on April 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

acoustic only

Could you maybe clarify what you mean by this?

There's a ton of fantastic instrumental-only music out there in all kinds of genres, but of course a ton of it involves instrument amplification and/or synthesizers and samples. (Al Di Meola, for example, does have a lot of stuff with him playing acoustic guitar, but IMO he's primarily known as an electric guitar player, and a lot of his work has been in "jazz fusion", so a lot of his bands have included "non-acoustic" instrumentation.) (Sorry for the pedantry.)

I guess what I'm asking is, are you looking for more Chopin/Django things where you want just the "natural" sound of the acoustic un-amplified instruments, or do you more mean a general sort of, "stuff that isn't obviously all-synthesized/all-sampled electronic music"?
posted by soundguy99 at 11:02 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hilary Hahn
posted by Lanark at 11:17 AM on April 1, 2020

> instrumental-only acoustic music/artists

The Great John Fahey
posted by The_Auditor at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: are you looking for more Chopin/Django things where you want just the "natural" sound of the acoustic un-amplified instruments


I mean, I'm assuming that even if an artist is primarily an acoustic performer they're likely to have some amplified stuff in the mix, which is fine. But mostly I want to feel like I've invited these people into my new-again home and they're entertaining themselves until I finish the day's writing and we can have a drink.
posted by headnsouth at 11:28 AM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you've been digging Django Reinhardt, and you want instrumental only/acoustic only, I'm thinking you might really like stuff that lands in the "new acoustic" genre. It draws heavily on bluegrass and Django-style acoustic jazz.

The David Grisman Quintet was one of the progenitors of "new acoustic." Here's a couple of their tunes:


Minor Swing (obviously, a Django tune)

David Grisman also did a fair bit of collaboration with Stephane Grapelli, who was in Hot Club du France along with Django.

Local to me was band called the Creaking Tree String Quartet, very much in the new acoustic vein.

There's also a great series of all-instrumental/all-acoustic supergroup albums called Bluegrass '97, '98, '99, etc. if you're interested in exploring more straight-ahead bluegrass instrumentals. Nice stuff on those albums. Tony Rice's Bluegrass Guitar Collection is also good.

That "new acoustic" tradition kind of carries over into music by Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer, and their collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, which take things in a classical direction.

Michael Hedges, Al Di Meola

Oh yeah!

And along those lines, consider checking out Don Ross. He's a fabulous fingerstyle acoustic guitar player. His Music for Vacuuming is a great album. The title ain't bad, either. Here's "How to Eat an Avalanche" from that album.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:32 AM on April 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Jamie Stillway acoustic guitar

Jeff Peterson slack key (and Hawaiian, even though he doesn't fit the mold)
posted by blob at 11:34 AM on April 1, 2020

Most of the artists on Windham Hill Records would be interesting, I think.

George Winston

William Ackerman

posted by blob at 11:38 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Look for "gypsy jazz" for stuff influenced by Django.
posted by blob at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2020

Astor Piazzola Quintet (thoughtful & swinging, some intense moments)
posted by ovvl at 11:56 AM on April 1, 2020

Ah, then given your update, I'll second Reich and Fahey.

Also try Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out

Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um

And dig into the works of both John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny, jazz guitarists who have covered a lot of stylistic ground over their careers (meaning, if you try something of theirs and it doesn't work for you, give a different album a whack.)
posted by soundguy99 at 11:58 AM on April 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Matt Flinner Trio is also very excellent:

Mandolinist Matt Flinner, guitarist Ross Martin and bassist Eric Thorin cover a wide variety of musical styles—all with the common ground of American roots music. Bluegrass, jazz and old-time music are all present here in their ways, along with a dose of classical chamber music composition and arrangement, as the members all draw from their wide array of musical loves, experiences and influences. These influences boil down into the trio’s own organic sound of New Acoustic music, or Modern String Band music, or Chamber Grass (music is getting harder and harder to label these days, isn’t it?).

Speaking of "Chamber grass," I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Darol Anger and Mike Marshall.

Speaking of Mike Marshall, Choro Famoso takes things in a...well, choro direction.

So, on the choro tip -- again, all acoustic, all instrumental, and like people are jamming in your house:

Jacob do Bandolim

Danilo Brito
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:08 PM on April 1, 2020

Chet Atkins has covered a lot of territory, so you might need to dig into the discography to see what appeals to you, but this sampler, The Master and his Music I believe is all instrumental apart from a duet with Dolly Parton (which is pretty damn charming).
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:26 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

(Sorry, I realize pieces I named are not acoustic only. But I think they still fit your vibe...)
posted by ferret branca at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2020

I think you would truly dig 12-string guitarist Leo Kottke. He has some all-instrumental albums out.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Andrès Segovia’s Bach pieces for guitar come to mind.
posted by degoao at 2:07 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

...and btw, there's a FPP up right now about Tuba Skinny a truly Great street band from NOLA. They're headed up by Shaye Cohn on Coronet and play early Jazz music. What a great band..check em out.
posted by The_Auditor at 4:29 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Pirate Bay to hear things, then buy them.
posted by dustpuppy at 5:25 PM on April 1, 2020

Response by poster: This is great, thanks everyone!

I'd love more non-guitar, low-energy recommendations too. The Django love was for the immersion, not necessarily for the style. I can only dance around my living room so much.
posted by headnsouth at 5:04 AM on April 2, 2020

Try the works of French composer Erik Satie, especially the Gymnopédies.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:41 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Goat Rodeo

Maybe Dixie Dregs?

What about some Raymond Scott?
posted by saladin at 6:38 AM on April 2, 2020

Oh and possibly Cal Tjader
posted by saladin at 6:53 AM on April 2, 2020

One of my all-time favorite musicians is Zoë Keating. Here's Optimist.
posted by dft at 11:19 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's some of my favorite working music which I hope satisfies all your criteria. I'll try and give single links to full albums wherever possible.

Relatively mellow jazz:

Miles Davis - sketches of spain, Kind of Blue
J. J. Johnson - The Trombone Master, First Place
Jimmy Smith - The Sermon
Kenny Dorham - Quiet Kenny
Tommy Flanagan - Overseas, Jazz Poet
Keith Jarrett - The Koln Concert (note: the original recording doesn't seem to be on youtube; this is some other pianist playing the same work, which imho isn't as good). There is, in general, a lot of excellent Keith Jarrett which doesn't seem to be on youtube =(
Art Pepper - I know there's some great stuff but I can't pick one just at the moment...

Relatively low-energy non-minimalist classical:

Astor Piazzolla - Five Tango Sensations
Bach - Golderberg Variations, Sonatas and Partitats for Solo Violin (violin, guitar)
Rachmaninov - The Isle of the Dead
Vivaldi + Max Richter - The Four Seasons, Vivaldi's Four Seasons Re-composed. The original four seasons is nice, and contemporary composer Max Richter wrote his own piece using the same musical material. I think it's nice to listen to them together.
Mahler - Symphony 1, Symphony 2, Adagios. Note: Symphony 2 has a small amount of German singing at the end.
Nthing Erik Satie, as folks up-thread mentioned.

Minimalism. Some of the links here include the human voice but only singing tones, not words. I'll mark those with a *.

Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians*, Octet, Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ*
Joep Franssens - Harmony of the Spheres*.
Arvo Part - Spiegel im Spiegel, Pari Intervallo, Tabula Rasa, Fur Ailina
Brian Eno - Music for Airports ( album version, alternate recording )
Terry Riley - Persian Surgery Dervishes


Keith Fullerton Whitman - playthroughs, Untitled Piece for Yamaha Disklavier Prototype,
Jack Jutson - Mother Official
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto - Vrioon
Alva Noto & Opiate - Opto file 1, 2, and 3

If you come back to let us know which ones you like/don't-like, I might be able to give more targeted recommendations! Happy listening!
posted by mathtime! at 7:19 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

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