Athletic Progression — “EMMELEV”


Recommended for fans of instrumental hip-hop on the order of early Stones Throw, Denmark’s Athletic Progression achieves a surprisingly dimensional sound for being made up of only three players — a testament to their arrangement and production know-how. This year brought their debut self-tilted LP, whose highest points ranked among our most-repeated songs; this one, drawing more from acoustic, capital-J Jazz than others, layers synth polyrhythms over a trance of piano arpeggios. -Isabel Zacharias

Byron The Aquarius — “Space & Time”

A trained jazz pianist who gravitates toward house and electronic music, BTA’s most recent works are more jazz music than house music, but that doesn’t make any of them less danceable. Case in point: this song. -Matt Fleeger

Fabiano Do Nascimento — “Ilhas”

With his nimble fingers sliding up and down the fretboard, Fabiano Do Nascimento delights and astonishes. Carrying on the tradition of Brazilian guitarists such as Baden Powell and Rosinha de Valenca, Nascimento takes us island hopping and away from our troubles. -Derek Smith

Jeff Parker — “Gnarciss”

Was 2020′s “Suite For Max Brown” Jeff Parker’s most listenable album? No. But yet again, the ex-Tortoise guitarist decided to trust his audience, trust the internal logic of the record and trust his own vision, which this time led him to craft a series of short, vignette-like songs ranging from insistent Afrobeat drums to spaced-out synth tangents. Its moments of tunefulness are all the more tangible for the contrast — “Gnarciss” is one of them, its only problem being that I wish it were longer so I could get even more lost in it. -Isabel Zacharias

Spencer Zahn — “Key Biscayne”

While bassist Spencer Zahn may be a newcomer to the instrumental music scene (much of his work over the years has been support for rock-oriented bands), his departure into instrumental music is worthy of attention from jazz fans. -Matt Fleeger

BrandonLee Cierley — “Falling Sky”

Portanders, meet BrandonLee Cierley, the PNW saxophonist merging jazz and hip-hop unapologetically and one of the local artists we most hope to be listening to lots more from in 2021. “Here Comes A New Challenger,” his first full-length, gathers collaborators like Machado Mijiga and KMHD’s own Farnell Newton (host of “LofiJazzSoul” on-air Monday nights) around crisp boom-bap drums and effortlessly adventurous soloing. This single is just one slice of a feel-good album we bumped all summer — without a doubt, Cierley’s one to watch. -Isabel Zacharias

Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington & 9th Wonder — “First Responders”

This EP from a sort of supergroup dropped at just the right time last summer. It’s particularly wonderful to hear the hip-hop-super-producer 9th Wonder turn his remarkable skills toward working with instrumentalists, rather than MCs. -Matt Fleeger

Kyle Molitor — “Twilite”

It’s hard to believe this is trombonist/arranger Kyle Molitor’s debut single — or anyone’s debut single, for that matter. Fitting right into the classic hip-hop-inspired niche of Portland label LofiJazzSoul (whose sampler was one of 2020′s best full-lenghts, if you ask us), “Twilite” nails the balance between crisp drums and lyrical horn playing, with the perfectly executed guitar lines of collaborator Canoed_sun tying the whole thing together — not a note out of place. -Isabel Zacharias

Seahawks — “Smooth Runnings”

In a year where escape has seemed downright impossible, here come Seahawks with a bit of dreamy drift to get you to that vacation destination in your mind. Remember, the Fender Rhodes is your good, good friend. -Derek Smith

Chibia — “Honey”

Taking just as many musical cues from nu-jazz as neo-soul, Portland singer-songwriter Chibia builds luxuriant, tropical-feeling singles centered around her uniquely warm contralto. This one is a treasure, a radio-friendly vibe track from the first note and (hopefully) a snapshot of the Portland neo-soul scene to come. Not a second of its four minutes land flat — and as soon as it’s over, you put it on again. -Isabel Zacharias

Read KMHD’s list of favorite albums of 2020 here, and list of this year’s favorite reissues here.