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KMHD's 2018 PDX Jazz Festival Guide

KMHD staff breaks down this year's PDX Jazz Fest schedule day-by-day with our must-sees and top recommendations for any taste.


It’s that time again! The annual PDX Jazz Fest is upon us, and this year’s lineup is as diverse as always, with headlining performances from legends like Abdullah Ibrahim and Dr. Lonnie Smith as well as evenings with boundary-pushers like Scott Amendola and Ethan Iverson. Here are the KMHD staff’s top festival recommendations, broken down by day and into five categories: Essentials (shows any festivalgoer won’t want to miss), Hometown Heroes, Innovators, Straight But Not Too Straight and Tributes to Greats.



Drummer-composer Scott Amendola.

Drummer-composer Scott Amendola.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz.


Art Abrams & His Swing Machine Big Band  |  HOMETOWN HEROES

Portland Jazz Composer’s Ensemble (PJCE)  |  HOMETOWN HEROES, ESSENTIALS  |  The Portland Jazz Composer’s Ensemble, formed in 2007 by Andrew Oliver and Gus Slayton post-graduation from Portland State University, was conceived with a simple goal: new jazz compositions for large ensembles, with the musical terroir of the city as a defining component of the ensemble’s sound. Much has changed since its creation; the addition of a record label, residencies and special concert guests have made the PJCE one of the most exciting organizations presenting jazz in Portland. This year’s special performance at the festival will highlight the work of singer-songwriter Edna Vasquez, making it a concert not to be missed.   -Matt Fleeger

An Evening with Scott Amendola  |  ESSENTIALS  |  When three distinct voices blend in perfect unison, conjuring a collective consciousness, there can be no doubting the intimacy of jazz. With a musical relationship spanning three decades, drummer Scott Amendola, guitarist Jeff Parker and electric bassist Paul Bryan bring such a rapport to Mississippi Studios. Between Amendola’s layered approach to rhythm, Parker’s nuanced sense of harmonic interplay and Ryan’s unselfish steadiness, this will be a night of improvisational acumen.  -Derek Smith



Guitarist Julian Lage.

Guitarist Julian Lage.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz.


Luciana Souza & The Dave King Trio  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT

Ben Allison & Think Free  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT

Lettuce  |  INNOVATORS

Julian Lage Trio  |  INNOVATORS  |  Julian Lage can pretty much play any guitar influenced by any type of music, and the good news is that he wants to rush headlong through genre boundaries. Most recently, he has put down his acoustic guitar in favor of the Fender Telecaster, infusing his jazzy compositions with a meaningful sense of rock and roll’s early vibrancy. The songs on his latest album, Modern Lore, reveal an artist determined to avoid the path of least resistance.  -Derek Smith



Randy Porter Plays Cole Porter  |  HOMETOWN HEROES

Regina Carter, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan (DOUBLE BILL)  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT



Tigran Hamasyan Trio  |  INNOVATORS  |  This show is highly recommended to those drawn to jazz’s more challenging, folkloric iterations. Pianist-composer Hamasyan creates moving, often minimal arrangements amalgamated from the music he grew up being moved by; the heavy amplified grooves of rock giants like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple are as present as the light-handed, songwriterly harmonies of his native Armenia. Not always equating “minimal” with “quiet,” this Mission Theater outing promises a highly diverse and dynamic set of music.  -Isabel Zacharias

Bobby Torres Ensemble: Breakin’ Away — Celebrating Al Jarreau  |  TRIBUTES TO GREATS



Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton  |  INNOVATORS



Headlining pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.

Headlining pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz.


Mostly Other People Do The Killing  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT  |  Henceforth deemed MOPDtK for brevity’s sake, this relatively straight-ahead quartet is centered on bassist-bandleader Matthew “Moppa” Elliott, whose compositions are all named for different towns in his native Pennsylvania. On a festival lineup dense with some pretty serious, technical playing, MOPDtK keeps a light touch and positive disposition. But make no mistake: even their most comfortable, soulful arrangements are punctuated with some monstrous soloing.  -Isabel Zacharias

An Evening with Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya  |  ESSENTIALS  |  KMHD is proud to present this performance, featuring one of the living legends of South African Jazz. Abdullah Ibrahim is considered one of the founders of the sound and scene that captivated the townships, Cape Town, and eventually, the world. This rare chance to see Ibrahim play on the West Coast could only happen with a festival like PDX Jazz. Working with his own unique compositions and his band, Ekaya, this performance is a huge (and again — rare!) highlight of this year’s festival.  -Matt Fleeger



Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Esperanza Spalding.

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Esperanza Spalding.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz.


Carrington-Coltrane-Spalding: Celebrating the Legacy of Geri Allen  |  ESSENTIALS  |  As with all major living totems of jazz, the loss of pianist Geri Allen this past summer was more than the loss of one person. It was the untangling of a whole, lifelong web of kaleidoscopically varied compositions, rooted hard bop bandleading work, solo work of rare technical prowess, and celebrated collaborations and features (on Ornette Coleman, Charles Lloyd and Charlie Haden albums, to name a few). Most recently before her passing, Allen had been playing in two trios with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington — Portand’s own bassist Esperanza Spalding and tenor saxophonist David Murray completing the groups, respectively. It was Allen’s wish that, for her PDX Jazz Fest tribute, Ravi Coltrane play saxophone for her in the Carrington/Spalding trio lineup — and what a beautiful occasion it will be to see that wish materialize.  -Isabel Zacharias

Kandinsky Effect  |  INNOVATORS

George Colligan Trio & Ethan Iverson (DOUBLE BILL)  |  HOMETOWN HEROES, INNOVATORS  |  By now most Portland jazz fans have heard of local legend George Colligan: a multi-instrumentalist (though most often seen playing piano or organ) and Portland State University instructor joined here by bassist Buster Williams (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Bobby McFerrin) and drummer Lenny White (Return To Forever, Chaka Kahn, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis). Colligan is always great, but the real boundary-pusher on this lineup is pianist Ethan Iverson, best known as one third of the genre-defying trio The Bad Plus. A stacked double bill, to be sure.  -Isabel Zacharias


FRIDAY, FEB. 23    

Headlining organist Dr. Lonnie Smith.

Headlining organist Dr. Lonnie Smith.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz.


Marcus Roberts Trio & Russell Malone Quartet (DOUBLE BILL)  |  STRAIGHT BUT NOT TOO STRAIGHT

Dr. Lonnie Smith  |  ESSENTIALS  |  A Dr. Lonnie Smith show is an uplifting, spiritual musical event. At least, that’s been our experience every time we’ve seen him play Portland (which, by our count, is about 7 times over the past decade). At age 75, Smith’s exuberance and talent shows no signs of diminishing; he’s just released his 6th album on the legendary Blue Note record label. His touring band includes longtime collaborator Jonathan Kriesberg – a guitarist who’s developed an almost telepathic rapport with the organist.  -Matt Fleeger



Trumpeter, bandleader and composer Charles Tolliver.

Trumpeter, bandleader and composer Charles Tolliver.

Courtesy of PDX Jazz.


Miles Electric Band  |  TRIBUTES TO GREATS

Snarky Puppy w/ Banda MagdaINNOVATORS 

Charles Tolliver & New Music Inc.  |  ESSENTIALS  |  The trumpet playing of Charles Tolliver began on his own terms, and he has remained a musical firebrand  ever since he taught himself how to play. From his creation of Strata East Records with Stanley Cowell in 1970 to his inventive big bands of the 21st century, Tolliver remains a restless explorer of sound.  He brings the creative fire of his trumpet quartet to the PDX Jazz Festival. Not to be missed.  -Derek Smith


And a happy Jazz Fest to all! *