It’s always made us sad how many perfect singles fall by the wayside in our annual quest to round up the year’s best albums.
In jazz, single cuts can contain a dimensionality and completeness that takes pop music a whole album to achieve. And, as we witness a transition from albums to singles as the primary format for new music releases, a top singles list is essential.
Much of the most vital contemporary jazz on the scene now is released into the ether as a lone five-ish minute track — a single offering that must stand firmly on its own two feet — and, here in 2017 we are impressed by how that pressure has resulted in more than a handful of untouchable singles.
"The Idea" — Blue Lab Beats | The London-based beat-making duo known as Blue Lab Beats have been crafting jazzy grooves for a few years now. The instantly head-nodding groove of "The Idea" acts as a vehicle for frequent collaborator Nubya Garcia's hypnotizing boppish solo, and the subsequent solos of Sheldon Agwu and Dylan Jones are no less tasty — a song that gets better and better with each listen. -Matt Fleeger
"Maria Tambien" — Khruangbin | We could not be more excited by how this trio — whose music is usually described as "Thai-psych" but owes much to jazz, funk, and world — is growing even stronger following their peerless debut LP "The Universe Smiles Upon You." "Maria Tambien," the first single they've put out since, employs its infectious, Islamic-influenced groove to celebrate the Iranian female artists whose work was lost as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 stripped Iranian women of their rights. Global dance music on a mission — yes, please. -Isabel Zacharias
"Wayfaring Traveler" — Keyon Harrold | Taking more than a few cues from Christian Scott's "Centennial Trilogy" with its Afro-centric rhythmic feels and electric beat manipulation, trumpeter-composer Keyon Harrold's new LP "The Mugician" contains several perfect singles. This one in particular, featuring Robert Glasper and vocals from the mighty Georgia Anne Muldrow, is an uplifting groove about opening one's soul to change and the path of healing — #relevant. -Isabel Zacharias
"Open Secret" — Bottle Tree | Since we so often traffic in instrumental music at KMHD, it isn't often that there's any overt message in the music we play. And there isn't exactly an overt one here, either. Instead, an infectious, off-kilter groove a la Sun Ra meets some of the best lyrics we've heard and read all year. And that voice? Composer Ben Lamar Gay crafts a AAACM-influenced West African beat that melds with stream-of-consciousness lyricism from the unique voice of A.M. Frison. -Matt Fleeger
"Godzilla" — Vels Trio | This track begins with an atmospheric, almost ambient feel, but takes you on the full hero's journey. By the end the listener is exposed to a heavy synth groove that builds to a perfect zenith. And with that, Godzilla is gone, vanished back to the sea. -Matt Fleeger
"We Ain't Feeling Time" — FKJ | Ah, Summer. It seems like so long ago — but back then, we were bumping this album every weekend. Here, producer "French Kiwi Juice" brings you the unconcerned, feel-good tropical vibes you need to survive the winter: an excellent collection of jazzy house grooves from this multi-instrumentalist, producer, and vocalist. -Matt Fleeger
"II B.S." — 1939 Ensemble | In November 1966, Charles Mingus awaited eviction by the police from his New York City apartment. To pass the time, he blasted a hole in the ceiling with a shotgun and remarked, "That's not bad for not aiming." 1939 Ensemble's brilliant cover of Mingus' "II B.S." closes with Mingus uttering those words. An incandescent fury was often the grit inside the pearls of his songs and this version of his tune rages with drums soaked in bitter sludge and the wailing, warring horns of Josh Thomas and Ralph Carney. -Derek Smith
"Matter of Time" — Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings | On the first single from her posthumously released album, Sharon Jones sings, "This is a song about peace." She fought as hard as she could until the end of her beautiful life and she's battling the forces of darkness through this song to get to that promised land of peace and unity. Anthems don't get much better than this. -Derek Smith
"Angels/Your Love" — Mr. Jukes feat. BJ the Chicago Kid | With a baritone sax groove that feels like it could have been lifted from Sun Ra's "Lanquidity," this track divides into a gospel-drenched soul ballad from the voice of one of the best in the biz right now. Mr. Jukes (the alias of English songwriter Jack Steadman) crafts a 5-minute piece that feels epic in its breadth and scope. -Matt Fleeger
"Obvious Bicycle" — DD Horns | The DD Horns, a project out of Los Angeles led by trumpeter Danny T. Levin and saxophonist David Moyer, create a sound that's reminiscent of the soulful grooves purveyed by another sax/trumpet duo – the great Nat and Cannonball Adderley. But Nat and Cannonball never covered Vampire Weekend. Levin and Moyer do so here skillfully. -Matt Fleeger
"This Road" — Laura Misch | Vocalist and saxophonist Laura Misch came to our attention this year after her brother, Tom Misch burst into the mainstream with his indie R&B album this year. Laura's sound owes a lot more to Jazz than her brother's, though, and this made her nuanced, soft and searching song "This Road" one of our favorites to spin. -Matt Fleeger
"BB Beats" — Korgy and Bass | Portland-based keyboardist Alex Meltzer and drummer Barra Brown formed the beat-making duo "Korgy and Bass" a couple of years ago. Since then they've gone on to record collaborations with some of Portland's most exciting instrumentalists, vocalists and MC's. On this track, they work with gifted trumpeter Thomas Barber to craft a track that will truly get toes tappin' and fingers snappin'. -Matt Fleeger
"Red Clay" — Charlotte Dos Santos |By far the most compelling release to come out of the Portland-based label Fresh Selects this year, vocalist Charlotte Dos Santos' debut full-length "Cleo" might be most easily labeled as alt-R&B, but harmonically, it's much more indebted to jazz. Here, Dos Santos re-imagines one of Freddie Hubbard's most recognizable tunes, keeping the iconic drum kicks and bassline of the original but layering in strikingly personal, original lyrics and her characteristically easygoing, shimmery voice. This is one of 2017's essentials. -Isabel Zacharias
"Truth" — Kamasi Washington | The first single to be released from darling saxophonist-composer Kamasi Washington's newest album "Harmony of Difference," "Truth" is a full, thirteen-and-a-half-minute journey through the potential of one simple four-bar phrase — a breezy earworm theme that builds to orchestral proportions. It closes out the album in a euphoric burst of choral vocals, electric guitar, a string section, the whole shebang. This might not have appeared on Kamasi's landmark LP The Epic, but it certainly warrants that descriptor. -Isabel Zacharias
"Back To Nature" — Nightmares On Wax | Nightmares on Wax dropped this ecologically-minded downtempo joint with a mission to move your body while expanding consciousness. George Evelyn's pitch-perfect programming offers up a platform of drums, bass and keys to support the important words of Kuauhtli Vasquez as he meditates on the perfection of nature and the human tendency to take and take and take. -Derek Smith