Artists in isolation. Analog creations captured in digital times. A world still (still). Jazz: before, now, beyond.
KMHD, Jazz Without Boundaries staff have curated some of the most noteworthy sounds we’ve encountered in the past year into imagined vinyl records. Scroll down to read about each side of the vinyl in this metaphorical analog compilation, and to learn more about the most ascending jazz albums, artists and singles of the year. Or tap play on the digital playlist, and travel through our selections as they stream.
“Feast” by PYJÆN
Astrological sign: Leo (always rising, baby).
Pairs well with: Celebrating victories until time (or space) is of no consequence.
Length: 48 minutes & 59 seconds.
“La Mano” by Stimulator Jones
Astrological sign: Libra (balanced, harmonious, peaceful).
Pairs well with: Cooking dinner with the person you love, making something special that you never have before. Learning new skills and ways of thinking in the process.
Fictional character who would jam to it: Judy Funnie from “Doug.”
— Isabel Zacharias
“Man Made” by Greentea Peng
Pairs with: Mango Jarritos and pop rocks.
Colors: Neon yellow and electric purple.
This joint would fall in-between (on my show): “Ain’t That Easy” by D’ Angelo and The Vanguard and “Rock Creek Park” by The Blackbyrds.
— Meg Samples
“Lu Cumbia Me Esta Illamando (Kaidi Tatham Remix)” by Nubya Garcia featuring La Perla
Words: Nubya’s warm saxophone lead supported by Colombian percussive vocal group, La Perla, along with a section featuring keyboardist Kaidi Tatham. Colombian Caribbean rhythms created by layers of triangle, drums, electric bass, and tight horn arrangements.
Pairs with: Sunshine and riding your bicycle.
This joint would fall in-between (on my show): “Tu Crees Que?” by Cal Tjader and “Lagos Baby” by Fela Kuti.
“Sound Ancestors” by Madlib
Pair with: Rose petal black tea, couture eyewear.
Lights a path to: Listening without thought.
Words: Genius producers like Madlib listen to music differently than you or I. That’s what makes Madlib’s many takes on the diverse source material found on “Sound Ancestors” so impressive – his touch adds something powerful to each song – even if you are familiar with the source material.
— Matt Fleeger
“The Algorithm Smiles Upon You” by Move 78, Aver
Words: Lee Sedol makes move 78 in a game of Go, pitting the South Korean world champion against his AI-powered rival. In that moment, his win probability leaps from 0.07 percent to 100 percent. The human has confounded the technological with an improbable choice. Move 78 & Aver have made an album of perfect grooves that reflect the continuing possibility for humans to master technology rather than be its servant.
Lights path to: Head nodding and expansive introspection.
Pairs well with: Watching the fading autumn light through rain-swept windows.
— Derek Smith
“BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST” by Theo Croker
Pairs well with: Green tea and a morning meditation.
Lights a path to: A future in which popular music rejects flatness in its messages and simultaneously depicts joy and hardship – on personal and community levels.
Related content: KMHD in conversation with Theo Croker.
“Space 1.8″ by Nala Sinephro
Lights path to: Planetary alignment.
Pairs well with: Strong coffee and morning moments of Zen.
This joint would fall in-between (on my show): Bobbi Humphrey’s “Flute In” and Avishai Cohen’s “Chutzpan.”
“After Dark” by Amanda Whiting
Colors: Pastel hues of blue and orange.
Astrological sign: Sun in Aries, Moon in Pisces (April, 10 2021).
Words: While this record was released in the spring of 2021, it sounds perfectly at home right here, right now in the darkest days of the year. Whiting’s harp playing is transcendent. The listener is rewarded for taking the trip with her the whole way through this sonic journey.
“Nattan” by Bremer/McCoy
Brings memories forward of: Coastal gazing and swimming in giant waves.
Colors: Deep greens and blues.
This joint would fall in-between (on my show): Something from Keith Jarret’s “Treasure Island” album and anything from Portico Quartet.
“Promises” by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra
Words: A multi-movement suite whose sense of completeness and gravity seems to outweigh its modest 46-minute length, this inter-generational meeting of music minds constructs, then deconstructs, then reconstructs the same handful of melodic themes. It’s one of those deceptively simple ideas that makes a moving argument for listening more deeply to everything you hear.
Colors: All, none, whichever you’re looking at.
Pairs well with: Staring into space for longer than you think is socially acceptable.
“Formwela 10″ by Esperanza Spalding
Words: Portland native Esperanza Spalding is no longer easily labeled as strictly a jazz artist – she’s explored funk-rock and symphonic pop, and this year she went one step further to create a concept album centered obsessively around the songwriting impulse itself. Lyrically, “Songwrights Apothecary Lab” reaches down into the world of the mind, describing in vivid detail all the pain and tenderness that lives there. Harmonically, this may be the jazziest thing she’s put out since “Radio Music Society,” combining a restless improvisatory spirit with the libretto writing she’s honed alongside Wayne Shorter for their new collaborative opera.
Astrological sign: Taurus-Gemini cusp – stable but flexible, rooted but flowing, spontaneous & composed at once.
Selected lyrics: I saw what I wanted and took it for me / Without the strings attached like they’re supposed to be / I didn’t know how deep some feelings can go / And you can really do some damage down there / In the soul of another.
“Notes With Attachments” by Pino Palladino & Blake Mills
Words: Billed as an experimental instrumental collaboration with the word “jazz” nowhere to be found, it’s nevertheless impossible not to hear funk, hip-hop, Latin – and, yes, jazz – as the rhythmic building blocks here. With 30 years between their relative ages, Palladino & Mills collage fragmented themes at once classic and refreshingly contemporary.
Colors: Deep green with splashes of bright yellow & red – like Forest Park in autumn.
Conjures memories of: The early stages of learning a new instrument, just messing around & making sounds, figuring out what sounds right to you.
“Hard to Explain” by Farnell Newton/Hunter Love/Chance Hayden
Pairs well with: Taking a walk through the crumbling remnants of a city on its knees.
Origin: A song born within the gray matter of a man with a horn as he watches a film that has yet to be made unspool in his mind’s eye…some promises cannot be kept.
This joint would fall in-between (on my show): The cinematic soul of Menahan Street Band’s “Seven is the Wind” and “Bumpy’s Blues” from Issac Hayes’ “Shaft”
“Mars Blues” by Telemakus
Conjures memories of: Post-headhunters Herbie Hancock.
Fictional character that would jam this: Sulu from Star Trek.
Words: Keyboardist and producer Telemakus seemed to come out of nowhere this year. His electro-funk prowess here is further augmented by the scattershot, boom-bap drumming of Portland’s own Cory Limuaco.
“Golden Green” by Emma-Jean Thackray
Pairs well with: “Biscuits and Weed.”
Lights a path to: RAMP’s “Come into knowledge.”
Words: When it comes to making music, ETJ always seems to be ahead of the curve. Maybe that’s easy to do when you tend to play almost every instrument on your records. “Golden Green” is a jazzy pop hit that’s wonderful to get stuck in your head.
“Mars Walk” by Brian Jackson
Astrological sign: Aquarius (introspective, triumph love).
Pairs well with: Thinking and planning the ENTIRE picture out. Hint: The painting is much larger than yourself, this land, this world.
Length: A four minute and three second journey.
“Natura Morta” by Sven Wunder
Pairs well with: any and all wine of any and all price points.
Origin: Stockholm, Sweden – though thematically it channels early Pompeiian still life paintings of fresh autumn fruits & everyday Roman man-made objects.
For fans of: ‘70s library music compilations, panorama photos, & the “Fantastic Planet” soundtrack.
“Peace Piece” by Green-House
This joint would fall in-between (on my show): “Love in Outer Space” by Sun Ra, Live at Haverford College, Jan. 25 1980 and “Joujou Zewa” by Tabu Ley Rochereau.
Featured artists: Olive Ardizoni, and only Olive Ardizoni – a non-binary artist who makes Green-House’s music all on their own, saying they approach the project “with an intentional naivety,” crafting “songs that find freedom through simplicity.”
Colors: All those that fall outside of the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light.
“Mood Valiant” by Hiatus Kaiyote
Origin: Melbourne, Australia.
Conjures memories of: SWV, Deodato, Digable Planets.
Lights a path to: Whatever popular music will sound like in 10 years.
Words: The third full length from the Australian supergroup finds them continuing their exploration of future jazz melded seamlessly with modern R&B (which they smartly call “future soul”). The many fans of this virtuosic quartet had to wait over 6 years for this new material, and it was every bit worth the wait. Of course, this band goes nowhere without the amazingly unique vocal stylings of Nai Palm, who continues to be one of the best vocalists in the world today.
“Between Days” by Kiefer
Words: In his own words…Kiefer says, “Between Days is about transition, feeling old even though I’m not, missing friends, finding purpose, and remaining hopeful.”
Conjures memories of: The pure innocence of childhood…of playing for the sake of play…of running for the thrill of being alive.
Colors: All the one-of-a-kind hues that can appear only when the sun slides above or below the horizon.
“Deciphering The Message” by Makaya McCraven
Pairs well with: Talking yourself up in the mirror before a night out.
Featured artists: Joel Ross, Junius Paul, De’Sean Jones, Marquis Hill, Jeff Parker, Matt Gold, Greg Ward.
Common misconceptions: Despite reading as a remix record of old standards, this ironically ends up feeling like one McCraven’s most original albums. He doesn’t just play the songs in a new way – he breaks them down to their most basic parts and totally re-imagines them, sometimes beyond recognition – leaving it up to us to, as he says, decipher.
“Talk Memory” by BadBadNotGood
Words: Capitalism is eating its litter. In the arranged silent spaces, a reformed rage comes through.
Length: 42 minutes & fifteen seconds.
Colors: Blues turning grey to translucent fire.
“Black Acid Soul” by Lady Blackbird
Mood: Soulful, Late-night.
Pairs well with: The most comfortable piece of furniture in your living room.
Words: Here we have an album that could be many things to many different people, a record that feels vintage and current at the same time. The debut from vocalist Lady Blackbird (aka Marley Munroe), far more than just another sultry vocal jazz record, delivers a soulful darkness that pervades the album, making it work on a purely visceral level so that after just a few listens you can feel its magic beginning to work on you.