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KMHD's Best Jazz Singles Of 2018

It's no secret that the streaming generation has changed the way artists and labels release music. That changing dynamic makes reviewing the year's most memorable singles just as important as reviewing albums.


Graphic by Isabel Zacharias.

As streaming services and on-demand listening drive music consumers’ attention spans shorter and shorter, it can be hard to know in just what direction music (and the musician’s place within it) is headed. One thing is for sure: More and more artists are choosing to forgo the formal “album” process. They are instead releasing singles — in the same breath as they’re finalized. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, but it’s made our singles list a little longer this year than in previous cycles.

—Program Director Matt Fleeger

“Bouncin" by Fritzwa

“Bouncin” by Fritzwa

Cover art by Mundo, courtesy of the artist.

Fritzwa “Bouncin” (self-released) | This. Right. Here. Is a jam and a half. Alt-R&B powerhouse Fritzwa may hail from New York, but she’s already become a fixture of the Portland scene, tending to incorporate the slow-paced haze of her new surrounds into her sound. This song is a huge exception, with a buoyancy true to its name and built on a super-deep sample we were almost shocked to hear: a song called “Trans-Alpine Express,” one side of a 2014 7” by The Elder Statesmen, a Lord Echo-produced group that never put anything out before or since. 

— Isabel Zacharias

“Shamal Wind” by Chip Wickham

“Shamal Wind” by Chip Wickham

Courtesy of Lovemonk.

Chip Wickham“Shamal Wind” (Lovemonk) | Echoes of Alice Coltrane imbue flutist Chip Wickham’s title cut with a sense of the elemental. Anchored by the deep groove of bassist David Salvador, the tune conjures up the shamal blowing its hot breath across the Arabian Peninsula until Ton Rosco’s insouciant vibes offer up an oasis of shade. Wickham’s composition is a powerful offering of 21st-century spiritual jazz that will set your mind to contemplation and your pulse to steady.

— Derek Smith

 “Lofi and Chill” by Farnell Newton

 “Lofi and Chill” by Farnell Newton

Cover art by/courtesy of the artist.

Farnell Newton“Lofi and Chill” (self-released) | Sure, L.A. is experiencing a sort of heyday in the lofi/ambient jazz sound, with players like Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood Ferguson, Sam Wilkes and Sam Gendel releasing landmark music in this subgenre, but Portland has something to say as well. For the Portland version of ambient jazz, we turn to our own “hardest working man in showbiz,” Farnell Newton, who’s been quite prolific in 2018. His soft trumpet improvisation laid over a smoothed-out production track makes “Lofi and Chill” instantly likeable and relaxing.  

— Matt Fleeger

"Flowers" by Sampa the Great

“Flowers” by Sampa the Great

Courtesy of Big Dada.

Sampa the Great (feat. REMI)“Flowers” (Big Dada) | The unique cadence and vocal textures of Sampa the Great — who was born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, and is now living in Australia — are something to behold in hip-hop: an MC with artful lyrics and a great singing voice. Jazz factors heavily into this production, making it difficult to know whether the music is sampled or coming from a live band; it’s just as hard to discern where the hip-hop begins and the jazz ends in this perfect single.

— Matt Fleeger

"When We Are" by Nubya Garcia

“When We Are” by Nubya Garcia

Courtesy of Nyasha.

Nubya Garcia“When We Are” (Nyasha) | Here’s that U.K. jazz scene you’ve been hearing about, packaged into six minutes and lit up like a lightbulb. Overseen by Sam Shepard (Floating Points) and featuring fellow British jazz pillar Joe Armon-Jones playing piano, “When We Are” has gifted saxophonist Garcia confidently answering the “to be or not to be” question that most American jazz scenes are still troubled by: Should we embrace instrumental hip-hop rhythms? Yes. 

— Isabel Zacharias

"Sunfort" by Old Unconscious

“Sunfort” by Old Unconscious

Courtesy of the artist.

Old Unconscious“Sunfort” (Jealous Butcher) | “Sunfort” is the title cut on the latest release from Portland’s Old Unconscious. What exactly does the term mean? As Noah Bernstein’s reverb-soaked saxophone howls over the dubbed-out bass of Perry Pfister and deep drums of Matthew Berger (host of The Latin Tinge on KMHD, Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m.), the word suddenly makes sense. You build a Sunfort to collect the light that will one day help you get back to your home world. When Cory Gray’s organ solo bubbles up from the darkness, Old Unconscious fires up the cosmic jazz thrusters to send us on our way.

— Derek Smith

"Flyin' Bamboo" by Nitai Hershkovits (feat. MNDSGN)

“Flyin’ Bamboo” by Nitai Hershkovits (feat. MNDSGN)

Courtesy of Raw Tapes.

Nitai Hershkovits (feat. MNDSGN)“Flyin’ Bamboo” (Raw Tapes) | This song — featured on the Tel Aviv-based Raw Tapes label’s latest sampler “Puzzles, Vol. 3” — was one of our favorites to spin on the air this year. Here, Hershkovits’ piano playing channels a sound derivative of the great South African master Abdullah Ibrahim. Behind that beautiful sound are the subtle produced flourishes of MNDSGN, resulting in a tasteful representation of what the producer is capable of doing in a jazz setting. 

— Matt Fleeger

"180 Proof" by Tenface

“180 Proof” by Tenface

Courtesy of the artist.

Tenface“180 Proof” (Gorge Mouth) | You must slice and dice the peppers, garlic, tomatoes and assorted other flavors to create a pure moment of taste bud bliss. That’s just how salsa works. The same must be said for Tenface’s cutting up of Latin jazz tunes to make his own fiery joints. The Portland producer and DJ Luis Ocasio (host of The Joint on KMHD, Monday through Thursday, from 11 p.m. to midnight) has picked the perfect ingredients to sample for all your head-nodding needs. Album closer “180 Proof” cribs some timbales and horn riffs from Willie Bobo and heads into the sweltering heat of summer with a groove that will have you feeling it.

— Derek Smith

“Purify” by Pete Beardsworth

“Purify” by Pete Beardsworth

Courtesy of Running Circle

Pete Beardsworth“Purify” (Running Circle) | Saxophonist Pete Beardworth’s new EP is excellent, and this song is a perfect encapsulation of the record’s overall vibe. “Purify” takes the listener on a sort of trip through an introspective jazz landscape, where the background groove develops into a pattern that’s bound to get stuck in your head. 

— Matt Fleeger

“Plus One” by Pan Amsterdam

“Plus One” by Pan Amsterdam

Courtesy of the artist.

Pan Amsterdam“Plus One” (Def Pressé) | “I’d like to introduce myself, but I really don’t think I should,” Pan Amsterdam says casually, coyly, at the opening of this song. That’s probably because he doesn’t necessarily need to. Pan Amsterdam is just the latest moniker of Leron Thomas, the jazz trumpeter who has always veered toward oddball funk and electropop, and who here fully embraces oddball hip-hop. God, this stuff is magical: that balance of sophistication and laissez-faire cool that many (much more experienced) emcees only dream of possessing.  

— Isabel Zacharias

“Prince Street” by 1939 Ensemble

“Prince Street” by 1939 Ensemble

Courtesy of the artist.

1939 Ensemble“Prince Street” (Jealous Butcher) | This track by Portland’s 1939 Ensemble was written as a tribute to Ornette Coleman’s loft and the burgeoning free jazz scene of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Beginning with a ping-ponging vibraphone riff, the song builds into a pulsing rhythm that feels like the mechanical energy of a street in the Bowery. One of our favorites to spin all year long. 

— Matt Fleeger

Other Singles We’re Excited About

Camilla George“How Nehemiah Got Free” (Ubuntu)

Gianni Brezzo“Numbers” (Papercup)

Toshio Matsuura Group“L.M. II” (Brownswood)

Jacob Mann Big Band“Baby Carrots” (920838)

L’éclair“L’Arrivé Au Port De Lagos” (Beyond Beyond is Beyond)

Kamaal Williams“Salaam” (Black Focus)

Ernie Hawks & The Soul Investigators“Bag Full of Miracles” (Timmion)

Bishop Nehru“Rooftops” (Nehruvia)

The Flying Stars of Brooklyn NY“My God Has a Telephone” (Colemine)

Khruangbin“Friday Morning” (Night Time Stories Ltd. / Dead Oceans)

Mocky“The Come Up” (Heavy Sheet)

Kiefer“Highway 46” (Stones Throw)

DjM Trio “Cranes in the Sky / All Falls Down” (Solange) (Paxico)

Stream KMHD’s Best Singles Of 2018