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KMHD's 2020 PDX Jazz Festival Guide

It’s that time of year again, Portland!

The annual PDX Jazz Fest is coming up from Wednesday, Feb. 19 through Sunday, March 1, and this year’s lineup is even more diverse and vital than ever, featuring composers who take chances with their art and are moving the genre forward. With headlining performances from living legends like Archie Shepp and Terry Riley complementing shows from contemporary voices like Jaimie Branch and Kassa Overall, this is an all-encompassing celebration of jazz that you definitely don’t want to miss.

Here are the KMHD staff’s top festival recommendations, broken down by day and into five categories: Essentials (shows any festival-goer won’t want to miss), Local Legends, Innovators, Straight But Not Too Straight and Tributes to Greats.


Trumpeter Jaimie Branch.

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch.

Dawid Laskowski / Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Mark de Clive-Lowe and Jaimie Branch  |  INNOVATORS, ESSENTIALS  |  Pianist, producer, DJ and all-around musical maverick Mark de Clive-Lowe blends cutting-edge electronics, live beat-making, classic funk and global influences with a distinctly jazz-inspired approach.

“Heritage is a legacy we receive from our ancestors to pass on to future generations. It’s the thread that holds us together in lineage and cultural identity.” This is the intention with which Mark de Clive-Lowe creates and share this music.

A mainstay of the Chicago jazz scene and an active recent addition to the New York scene, Jaimie Branch is an avant-garde trumpeter known for her “ghostly sounds,” says The New York Times, and for “sucker punching” crowds straight from the jump off, says Time Out. Her classical training and “unique voice capable of transforming every ensemble of which she is a part” has contributed to a wide range of projects not only in jazz but also punk, noise, indie rock, electronic and hip-hop.

Branch’s prolific as-of-yet underexposed work as a composer and a producer, as well as a sideman for the likes of William Parker, Matana Roberts, TV on the Radio and Spoon, is all on display in her debut record “Fly or Die” — a dynamic 35-minute ride that dares listeners to open their minds to music that knows no genre, no gender, no limits.

“Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes” Film Screening  |  TRIBUTES TO GREATS  |  “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes” explores the unique vision behind the iconic jazz record label. Through rare archival footage, current recording sessions and conversations with Blue Note artists, the film reveals a powerful mission and illuminates the vital connections between jazz and hip hop.


Ghost-Note and Liv Warfield  |  INNOVATORS, LOCAL LEGENDS, ESSENTIALS  |  Headed by Snarky Puppy’s multiple Grammy-winning percussion duo of Robert Sput Searight and Nate Werth, Ghost-Note is an explosion of sound. With an expansive roster of next-level musicians — representing members of Prince, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Marcus Miller, Toto, Justin Timberlake and more — the band is pushing funk music into the future; building on the uplifting, pioneering foundations laid out by the likes of James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone and infusing their fresh take with tastes of Afrobeat, hip-hop, psychedelia, world folklore and more.

A former track star and gymnast, Peoria, Illinois-born Liv Warfield began building her legend in Portland, Oregon. Despite not having any formal background in singing, she gained the respect of local superstars and became an icon to many. While she takes cues from musical influences like Nina Simone, Etta James, Sade, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige, Warfield has carved out a style all her own, which can best be described as “alternative soul with a lil bit of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” In 2006, she self-released her debut album “Embrace Me.” By 2009, she caught the eye of the one-and-only Prince and ultimately joined his group the New Power Generation.


Composer and musician Terry Riley with his son, the guitarist Gyan Riley.

Composer and musician Terry Riley with his son, the guitarist Gyan Riley.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Mark Guiliana BEAT MUSIC  |  INNOVATORS, ESSENTIALS  |  Mark Guiliana has become recognized as one of the world’s leading drummers, admired and in demand across the spectrum from jazz to rock to electronic music for his rhythmic sophistication, creative impulse and individual sound. He has been in the vanguard of drummers creating a new vernacular on the instrument, blending virtuosity on acoustic drums with artfully deployed electronic beats and processing.

Guiliana was chosen as Best Jazz Drummer in the Modern Drummer Readers Poll 2017, while DownBeat dubbed him a Rising Star in its Critics Poll. JazzTimes aptly proclaimed: “Guiliana, a technical master with a rare sense of musicality, has over the past decade become one of the most influential drummers of his generation.”

Terry Riley and Gyan Riley: Live at 85!  |  ESSENTIALS  |  Terry Riley (composer, pianist, vocalist) launched the minimalist movement with his classic IN C, composed in 1964, a seminal work, which was to have an enormous impact on the course of western music. His music has been played in the great concert halls throughout the world and his discography includes 60 recordings on labels such as Columbia Masterworks, Wergo and Nonesuch.

He attended San Francisco State University and the University of California, graduating with a masters degree in music. He studied composition with Robert Erickson and piano with Adolf Baller. He was professor of composition 1971-1981 at the prestigious Mills College in Oakland, California. Besides concertizing, he has given lectures and seminars in the United States, Europe and Australia.


Saxophonist Archie Shepp.

Saxophonist Archie Shepp.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Archie Shepp Quartet and Blue Cranes  |  INNOVATORS, LOCAL LEGENDS, ESSENTIALS  |  Saxophone player, composer, pianist, singer, politically committed poet, playwright, Archie Shepp started cutting records for Impulse! in the mid-‘60s, among which 17 — “Four For Trane,” “Fire Music,” and “Mama Too Tight” – are some of the classics of Free Music. His collaboration with John Coltrane materialized further with Ascension in 1965, a real turning point in Avant-Garde music. His militancy was evidenced by his participation in the creation of the Composers Guild with Paul and Carla Bley, Sun Ra, Roswell Rudd and Cecil Taylor.

The dictionary of Jazz (Robert Laffont, Bouquins) defines him in the following way: “A first rate artist and intellectual, Archie Shepp has been at the head of the Avant-Garde Free Jazz movement and has been able to join the mainstream of Jazz, while remaining true to his esthetic. He has developed a true poli-instrumentality. An alto player, he has also played soprano since 1969, piano since 1975 and more recently occasionally sings blues and standards.”

Since their formation in 2007, Blue Cranes have become a key player in the Portland, Oregon, creative music/DIY scene and one of the most exciting groups to keep tabs on in the Northwest. They’ve developed a singular musical voice grounded in melody and explosive improvisations – marking off their unique microcosmic territory in post-jazz circles.

The members of the quintet — Reed Wallsmith on alto saxophone, Joe Cunningham on tenor saxophone, Rebecca Sanborn on keyboards, Jon Shaw on bass and Ji Tanzer on drums — bring a unique array of experiences to their group-centered aesthetic, including work with AU, The Decemberists, Laura Veirs, Golden Retriever, Wayne Horvitz, Like A Villain, Rebecca Gates, Laura Gibson, Ethan Rose, Dirty Revival, Loch Lomond; and Portland Cello Project.

Antibalas and The True Loves plus POPgoji  |  INNOVATORS, LOCAL LEGENDS  |  The musical collective known as Antibalas (Spanish for bulletproof or anti-bullets) was conceived of in Mexico City and formed in Brooklyn, New York. The early nucleus of the group was composed of the band’s founder Martín Perna and later included several other members (Gabriel Roth, Michael Wagner, Del Stribling aka Binky Griptite, Victor Axelrod, Fernando Bugaloo Velez, Anda Szilagyi) from the Soul Providers / Dap Kings band, performing their first show in May 1998.

Since then, the Antibalas horn section has performed on Grammy award-winning albums by Angelique Kidjo, and Mark Ronson and dozens of albums, sound tracks and live guest appearances with artists including The Roots, My Morning Jacket, TV on the Radio, Santigold and numerous others. Former members have gone on to record and perform with The Dap Kings, Mark Ronson, the Black Keys, the Arks, Menahan Street Band, the El Michels Affair, Arcade Fire, Iron and Wine, Bat For Lashes and Imogen Heap.

Listening to the abundant sounds of the Seattle-based funk and soul group, The True Loves, is like walking down a favorite neighborhood street, slapping-five with friends, checking up with clerks in their stores, admiring your own dark sun-glassed face in their windows, ducking under flowerpots and smelling the familiar smells of your most cherished locale. The band is its own block party. 

POPgoji is a large dance band mashing up Brazilian rhythms with pop-soul lyrics based in Portland, Oregon. In 2013, percussionist Michael Galen wanted to build on the vibrant energy of local samba jam sessions (pagodes) by making it easier for nonPortuguese speakers to participate fully. With this intention in mind, he rallied a group of versatile musicians to combine Brazilian rhythms with American pop-soul.

Douyé  |  INNOVATORS  |  Ever since its creation nearly 60 years ago, bossa nova has been celebrated as a lyrical fusion of American jazz and Brazilian samba. The family tree of both of those musics, however, can be followed back to their African roots.

With her gorgeous new album Quatro (Bossa Nova Deluxe), the Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based vocalist Douyé brings the conversation full circle, instilling an extra helping of African rhythm and electricity into the tropical cool of bossa classics by Antonio Carlos Jobim along with reimagined jazz standards.


Kandace Springs and Jimmie Herrod  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT  |  The new album from world renowned Blue Note and Capitol recording artist Kandace Springs, scheduled for a February release, will be her most personal work yet. Entitled “The Women Who Raised Me,” it is her loving tribute to the great female singers who inspired her to begin her journey towards becoming one of the premier jazz/soul vocalists of our time. The album will feature her unique interpretations of songs that she first heard growing up in Tennessee, and ranges from such classic icons as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae, through ’60s legends Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield, and up to modern masters such as Sade and Lauryn Hill.


Multi-instrumentalist Omar Sosa and violinist Yilian Cañizares.

Multi-instrumentalist Omar Sosa and violinist Yilian Cañizares.

Franck Socha / Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Omar Sosa & Yilian Cañizares: Aguas Trio featuring Gustavo Ovalles  |  INNOVATORS  |  In October 2018, Omar Sosa and violinist-vocalist Yilian Cañizares released “Aguas,” a very beautiful and personal album. Featuring their compatriot, percussionist Inor Sotolongo, “Aguas” reflects the perspectives of two generations of Cuban artists living outside their homeland, interpreting their roots and traditions in subtle and unique ways. Songs range from the poignant to the exuberant, and are expressive of the exceptional musical chemistry, poetic sensibilities, and originality of the artists. The material on “Aguas” is an inventive and engaging mix of the artists’ Afro-Cuban roots, Western classical music and jazz.


Devin Phillips + Christopher Brown  |  HOMETOWN HEROES, STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT  |  Born and reared in New Orleans, the cradle of jazz, Devin Phillips’ intense affair with the saxophone began at the age of eight. At 14, he was accepted into the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and trained in music theory and multi-styles composition, graduating in 2000 with top honors.

Performing, touring and recording with top jazz artists, such as Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri, The Headhunters, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, musician Lenny Kravitz and Los Hombres Caliente (with whom he recorded two award-winning albums) soon followed. His reputation as a sax man with intricate and rhythmically innovative sounds made him a popular feature at jazz festivals: France’s Jazz de Vien Festival; Tokyo’s JVC Jazz Festival; Itanbul’s The Ruins; Spain’s Barcelona Jazz Festival; the Netherlands’ North Sea Jazz and the New Orleans Jazz Festival. 

A Portland native, drummer and saxophonist, Christopher Brown has had the pleasure of performing and or recording with many of the world’s top recording artists, such as: Beyoncé, Esperanza Spualding, Liv Warfield, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Ray Charles, Jimmy Heath, Ralph Bowen, Ralph Peterson Jr., Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Paquito D’Rivera, Claudio Roditi, Charles Fambrough and Benny Golson, just to name a few.

Aside a month long European tour with Roy Hargrove’s Quintet in the summer of 2006, his most recent accomplishments have come in the form of having been offered both an adjunct Professor of Jazz Theory (Fall 2007) and History (2009-2011) position at Rutgers University, as well as being presented with the 2007 Artist of the Year award (following Esperanza Spaulding) through Portland State University’s Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute.


Kenny Barron + John Medeski  |  INNOVATORS  |  Honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master, Kenny Barron has an unmatched ability to mesmerize audiences with his elegant playing, sensitive melodies and infectious rhythms. The Los Angeles Times named him “one of the top jazz pianists in the world” and Jazz Weekly calls him “the most lyrical piano player of our time.”

Famed keyboardist John Medeski is not easily contained to a single project or genre. He is credited on over 300 works to date, most notably as one third of the groundbreaking trio Medeski Martin & Wood. Equally comfortable behind a Steinway grand piano, Hammond organ or any number of vintage keyboards, Medeski is a highly sought after improviser and band leader whose projects range from work with John Zorn, The Word (Robert Randolph, North Mississippi Allstars), Phil Lesh, Don Was, John Scofield, Coheed & Cambria, Susana Baca, Sean Lennon, Marc Ribot, Irma Thomas, Blind Boys of Alabama, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and many more.


Vocalist Kat Edmondson.

Vocalist Kat Edmondson.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Kat Edmondson and Halie Loren  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT, LOCAL LEGENDS  |  With a sweetly mellifluous soprano echoing Blossom Dearie’s lighter-than-air approach as well as her gift for evocative songwriting, Kat Edmonson is a rare artist who embodies the spirit of the past while remaining resolutely au courant. Her unusually charming and seamless blend of old and new has garnered attention on NPR Tiny Desk Concerts, “Austin City Limits,” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” The vintage pop and jazz vocalist’s new album “Dreamers Do” is out Feb. 7, 2020, with a 40-city, U.S. tour to follow.

The album blends original compositions and re-imagined mid 20th century classic Disney songs, and tells a story which takes place over the course of one sleepless night. “Dreamers Do” follows the release of 2018’s “Old Fashioned Gal,” which Billboard calls “an intimate journey from doubt to resolve and implied triumph.” NPR Music raves the album is “a handsome showcase for her songwriting, which has grown ever more confident over the last decade,” while the Associated Press says the record “sounds like an alternate soundtrack to an Audrey Hepburn film.”

Halie Loren is an international, award-winning jazz singer-songwriter. Raised in Alaska, this Oregon-based artist brings a fresh and original perspective to time-honored musical paths, channeling her innate understanding of connectedness across musical boundaries to forge bonds with diverse audiences in North America, Asia and Europe. A lover of global cultures and music, her repertoire is a multilingual one, including songs in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese and Korean, as well as her native English. She’s released eight albums to date, garnering several national and international awards as well as significant critical and chart success along the way, with her albums consistently charting at number one in Billboard/Japan Jazz Charts, iTunes (Canada and Japan) and Amazon Music.

Miguel Zenón Quartet  |  INNOVATORS Multiple Grammy nominee, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American Folkloric Music and Jazz.

Eric Gales and Ron Artis II & The Truth  |  INNOVATORS Growing up in a religious household, Eric Gales brothers Eugene and Manuel used to blast out Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Muddy Waters, Blue Cheer, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, King’s X and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

While their mother was at church and little Eric was four, he was soaking it all up and this is where he had his incredible grounding of blues, hard rock and psychedelia. Naturally right handed, Eric learned his distinctive left handed upside down playing from his older brothers Eugene, his mentor and Little Jimmy King, who was later adopted as Albert King’s godson.

Today, as a renowned guitarist, he has performed with: Carlos Santana at Woodstock in 1994 and in July 2016; Zakk Wylde who also appeared on 2014’s “Good For Sumthin’” and Eric Johnson who also appeared on the same album. He also toured as part of the Experience Hendrix tour with legend after legend including Bootsy Collins and Robert Randolph and has also collaborated with Lauryn Hill many times.

Based out of Hawaii, Ron Artis II & The Truth bring the deepest aspects of soul music. According to Glider Magazine Ron Artis II, front man of the group “rips, and has a voice to match the big sounds coming from his guitar.” Mick Fleetwood is quoted as saying, “I love the songwriting and the storytelling.”


Drummer, emcee and producer Kassa Overall.

Drummer, emcee and producer Kassa Overall.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Kassa Overall  |  INNOVATORS, ESSENTIALS  |  Seattle-raised, Brooklyn-based Kassa Overall is a jazz musician, emcee, singer, producer and drummer. One of the fastest rising stars of New York City’s legendary jazz scene and a self-described “backpack jazz” artist, he melds the praxis of avant-garde improvisation with hip-hop production techniques on his forthcoming album, “I Think I’m Good,” due out on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings on Feb. 28.

The album tilts the nexus of jazz and hip-hop in new directions that reflect his panoramic, multiracial background, from Joan Baez to West Coast G-Funk, to the sounds of New York’s avant-garde scene. Since the 2019 release of his critically acclaimed debut album “Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz,” New York City and global audiences have had the opportunity to experience Overall’s singular brilliance. It has been embraced with rave reviews from Afropunk, NPR, BBC, San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times.

Overall has been working at the forefront of jazz for two decades, touring and recording as a sideman drummer with artists as varied as Geri Allen, Francis and the Lights and Arto Lindsay. He’s featured on drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s “Social Science,” worked with Brandee Younger and shared stages with many of the greats, including Donald Byrd, Mayer Hawthorne, Yoko Ono and Gary Bartz.


Vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician Georgia Anne Muldrow.

Vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician Georgia Anne Muldrow.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz

Donald Harrison, Mike Clark & Wil Blades Trio with Outer Orbit featuring Sarah Clarke  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT, LOCAL LEGENDS  |  Donald Harrison Jr. has combined a whirlwind career as a saxophonist with establishing cultural and educational traditions in his native New Orleans, Louisiana. Known for creating nouveau swing, a jazz style that combines R&B, funk, hip-hop, and African dance.

Drum virtuoso and jazz musician Mike Clark gained worldwide recognition as one of America’s foremost jazz and funk drummers while playing with Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters in the early seventies. His incisive playing on Hancock’s “Actual Proof” garnered him an international cult following and influenced generations of drummers.

No less a jazz organ authority than the legendary Dr. Lonnie Smith has called Wil Blades “the future,” anointing him the heir apparent to “carry on the legend [and] the legacy of the organ, of the B-3.” Over the past 15 years, Blades has grown to be one of the most in-demand organ players on the Bay Area scene.

Outer Orbit is a funk-soul collective led by Galen Clark (Trio Subtonic) featuring an all star line up including Tyrone Hendrix (Prince), Damian Erskine (Skerik Band), Peter Knudsen (Ghost-note) and Mike Elson (Swatkins) and a rotating cast of special guests including Sarah Clarke (Dirty Revival), Saeeda Wright, Brian Foxworth and more. Outer Orbit brings original soul and pocket heavy funk while drawing on a range of influences from Sly Stone to The Meters.

Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead   |  INNOVATORS  |  Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead is an ascendant New York jazz quintet led by Modern Drummer’s Number One Best Up-and-Coming Drummer of 2018, Jonathan Barber. Only 29 years old, Mr. Barber has already worked with artists such as Pat Metheny, Nicholas Payton, Buster Williams, Kenny Barron, Jeremy Pelt, Jimmy Greene, J.D. Allen, Harold Mabern, Larry Willis, Steve Davis, The Brooklyn Philharmonic and Erykah Badu.

Now, he’s stepping out in full force as a bandleader. DownBeat magazine calls Vision Ahead’s self-titled debut album Barber’s “greatest accomplishment to date.” But make no mistake, this group is more than the Jonathan Barber Quintet. This is unmistakably Vision Ahead: a distinctive and close-knit group of musicians who have been working toward this moment for years. Featuring Godwin Louis on saxophone, Andrew Renfroe on guitar, Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Taber Gable on piano, Vision Ahead offers a fresh blend of classic jazz with elements of gospel, rock, soul, and fusion that’s already attracting listeners across generations.

Thundercat and Georgia Anne Muldrow plus Brown Calculus  |  INNOVATORS, LOCAL LEGENDS, ESSENTIALS  |  Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner spent the last part of the new millennium’s first decade as the go-to bassist for practically every artist in black vanguard music. His nimble, syncopated, groove-heavy bass lines were heard on albums by Erykah Badu, Sa-Ra, Flying Lotus and others.

Part of the fabric of Los Angeles’ hip-hop/jazz/soul avant-garde since 2005, Georgia Anne Muldrow has built a mightily impressive discography and a reputation to match during her career as a vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician. It is fitting that in 2018 she should sign to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder imprint — a record label deeply embedded in Los Angeles, with a ton of shared history and a united vision of the future – to release her stunning new album.

Brown Calculus — Two spirits, sprung forth from the same body in a past life, we have traveled through time and space, reconnecting as two separate hosts on planet Earth and embodying the intergalactic values of jazz and unity. Brown Calculus is Brown Alice (Vaughn Kimmons) and Brown Calvin (Andre Burgos).


Dan Tepfer Natural Machines  |  INNOVATORS  |  Dan Tepfer has made a name for himself as a pianist-composer of wide-ranging ambition, individuality and drive. “A remarkable musician” in the words of the Washington Post and one “who refuses to set himself limits” in those of France’s “Télérama.”

Of his new project, “Natural Machines,” Tepfer said: “Natural Machines is a project where I explore the intersection, in music, between natural and mechanical processes. I improvise at the piano, and programs I’ve written on my computer interact with me in real-time as I’m playing, both musically and visually. I’m playing on the Yamaha Disklavier. It’s an acoustic piano with extra abilities: When I play, it sends data to my computer, and when my computer sends it data, it plays by moving the keys on its own. The sound the computer makes, through the piano, is exactly the same sound that I make myself. In Natural Machines, instead of composing a piece, I decide the way a piece works. I program simple rules for the computer to follow when responding to what I play. Since I’m improvising, I’m always listening to what the computer is playing and responding to it as well. So the rules end up affecting me, too.”

View the full festival lineup here.