Nobody saw this coming - 2011 may go down as the Year of the Saxophone. The instrument infiltrated many of the year's most creative albums, often showing up unannounced to push an already awesome song into unforeseen greatness. As the world begins looking back at the past twelve months in music, here are the six best uses of saxophone in 2011.
6. Funky Butt Brass Band - "St. Louis Breakdown" Anyone who thought this local outfit was only capable of one flavor was silenced by July's You Can Trust The Funky Butt Brass Band, the sophomore release that presented FBBB as an endlessly versatile ensemble. Opener "Do That Thang" is the type of flawless second-line street beat you may expect from a brass band. The engaging groove of "St. Louis Breakdown" makes it clear that "Funky Butt" does not refer to the swamp-ass which may result from a New Orleans parade. "Breakdown" spotlights Ben Reece's tenor saxophone - technically not a brass instrument - for a solid minute. He makes his horn scream, like Maceo Parker being haunted by Eric Dolphy's ghost. By the time his band-mates back him up, their tight jabs feel summoned rather than composed - a testament to both Reece's control over his instrument and his willingness to surrender it.
5 & 4. Tie: Destroyer "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker"/M83 "Midnight City" Destroyer's Dan Bejar and M83's Anthony Gonzalez come from such different backgrounds, the former a Vancouver indie popper and the latter a French electro shoegazer, that lumping them together for any reason seems impulsively wrong. Yet, both released records this year with production transplanted directly from the 1980s. And not the quasi-cool new-wave area of the decade, the yacht-rock Huey Lewis strain. Which, of course, means saxophone solos, and both Bejar and Gonzalez were happy to indulge. "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker," the eight minute centerpiece of Destroyer's Kaputt, pads out its last 180 seconds or so with a smoov-jazz melody from the Grover Washington Jr. playbook. M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming brings out the big guns on "Midnight City" with a wailing solo that would make Lenny Pickett from the Saturday Night Live Band proud. But the overarching thread was the lack of irony, the gusto in which the saxophone was utilized by two forward-thinking artists in its most cheesed-out context
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