Instrumental music exists outside the realm of vocalists, with guitar, horns, and keys filling the space with innovative instrumentation (known as instrumental interludes) where lyrics would normally reside. Though commonly associated with jazz, instrumental music is not limited to any single genre, and can even transcend genre altogether.
The beauty in instrumental music is its ability to push the boundaries of sound—exploring and weaving in and out of its structure—with an ease not afforded to lyrical constructs.
Below, discover five fantastic instrumental albums paired with the perfect strain and explore the vast range of sounds and possibilities instrumental music provides.
Feeling Good by Dorothy Ashby
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Euforia
Released posthumously in 2015, Feeling Good is an incredible collection of harpist Dorothy Ashby’s music that can’t be missed. The 30-track album runs for nearly two hours and will leave no question as to why Ashby’s prowess makes her one of the top instrumental artists to know and love. Her light, lovely, and versatile sound relaxes yet enlivens. Feeling Good is a feel-good instrumental jazz album with a fresh twist, as Ashby demonstrates the harp’s use as a bebop instrument that is as engaging as any saxophone.
Juice by Medeski, Martin, Scofield & Wood
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Candy Jack
Juice, released in 2014, is the latest album from the dynamite quartet, Medeski, Martin, Scofield & Wood. The album contains all the signature versatility that Medeski, Martin & Wood bring to their albums, with the expert finesse and precision of legendary guitarist John Scofield. The eclectic 10-track album will keep you on your toes as it bends and twists through experimental and improvisational jazz fusion. Medeski’s wizard-like ability to manipulate the keys and organ provokes creativity and a sense of playfulness that will keep you guessing and surprised from “Sham Time” to “The Times They Are A-Changing.”
Nomad (Remastered) by Lotus
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Fortune Cookies
Nomad was originally released in 2005, but the latest remastered and live version—released in 2014—is here to remind us all over again why we will always love this album. With funky, upbeat stylings and a full, rounded sound, Nomad wastes no time pulling you into its world—and what a joyful world it is. Songs such as “Travel” incorporate light, melodic vocalizations, blended seamlessly so that they become a sort of instrumentation of their own. Nomad traverses landscapes, delivering transcendental bliss and danceable rhythms in a single album.
Migration by Bonobo
Strain Pairing Recommendation: 303 OG
Bonobo’s Migration, released in 2017, is an extension of his unique sound and musical stylings. Each song is masterfully manipulated and crafted, flowing from one track to the next with versatility. Though Migration is electronically styled, Bonobo’s use of real instruments creates a depth and soul within the music that is often lacking amongst electronic artists. And while the album incorporates lyrics on a few tracks, it is deftly woven into the soundscape the way any other instrument is intertwined. Migration explores a range of sounds and feelings, from upbeat tribal rhythms to soft, melodic, wordless ballads, making it an album that tells endless stories with every note.
Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid by Charlie Hunter
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Sweet Cheese
With a title reflecting the playfulness instilled in this instrumental album, Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid is a modern jazz collection with a funky twist. Released in 2010, the album runs short at only 38 mins, but the pointed, swampy vibe and full sound, makes up for it. Hunter’s guitar sails beside a medley of drums, horns, and bass, creating a sound that is both precisely orchestrated and experimentally fun. This album will leave your mind stimulated even as you relax into every note.