Once again, Portland Jazz Festival lights up our city's venues with an incredible a mix of bonafide legends and emerging artists, all known for expanding the boundaries of jazz. The festival is bigger this year, pushing its usual spring and fall programming into other markets, including Seattle and Bend.

Just considering the festival proper—February16 through March 2—there's a dizzying amount of shows to choose from. Much of it is excellent. Some of it is sold out. Here are our picks for shows you should not miss. 

Cyrus Nabipoor

The past few years have been difficult for artists and venues, as the pandemic put their livelihoods on hold. Portland trumpeter Cyrus Nabipoor is one of those who struggled to make ends meet during that time. On top of that, he was diagnosed with cancer and watched a dear loved one weather their own health issues, alongside him. Nabipoor chose to document this tough chapter on his new record, In Lieu of Tears, which, quite literally, was his only way of grieving and processing the past few years. It’s Nabipoor’s first album as leader and features other local musicians, including saxophonist Leon Cotter, drummer Micah Hummel, and upright bassist Garrett Baxter. The compositions on In Lieu of Tears are noticeably stripped-down, pulling from crossover jazz, with hints of Nabipoor’s more experimental tendencies. Warm production gives songs like “Fever Dreams” and “Known Entity” the immediacy of a live performance. (Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Thurs Feb 22, 8 pm, $ 49.75, tickets here, all ages, w/ Nicholas Payton)

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Shabaka Hutchings 

Some of jazz’s best and most daring artists are currently coming out of the UK. And multi-instrumentalist Shabaka Hutchings stands confidently at the top of that scene. Aside from his solo work, he was a member of Sons of Kemet, and is currently part of the excellent electronic space jazz group, the Comet Is Coming. Hutchings also routinely performs with groups like the psychedelic funk collective, Heliocentrics and, most recently, played a Japanese flute called a shakuhachi on André 3000’s New Blue Sun (the instrument is also featured on his latest solo EP, Afrikan Culture). All that’s to say, Hutchings’ music broadens the definitions of jazz in the best possible ways. This performance will also feature Chris Sholar on keys and electronics, and Portland’s own Esperanza Spalding on bass. (Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Fri Feb 23, 8 pm, $49.75, tickets here, all ages)

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Bob James Quartet

Bob James is a legend in the jazz world, but in some circles he’s best known for his impact on hip hop. He’s one of the most sampled artists in history. For example, his song “Nautilus” alone has been sampled by Public Enemy, EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, and A Tribe Called Quest, just to name a few. His version of “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” isn’t far behind. James’ records continue to be a crate-diggers’ dream, loaded with funk jams, and plenty of choice breaks. Of course, his catalog stands on its own, musically and through his work as a producer and arranger for jazz greats like Milt Jackson and Gabor Szabo. This is a legend worth catching, as he’ll also be performing with guitar great Lee Ritenour. (Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Sat Feb 24, 8 pm, $69.75 - $99.75, tickets here, all ages)

Ronnie Foster

Organist Ronnie Foster’s 1972 debut The Two Headed Freap is a jazz-funk classic, brought to more ears through A Tribe Called Quest sampling “Mystic Brew” on their track “Electric Relaxation.” It’s such an amazing record, it’s easy to overlook other gems in his catalog like On the Avenue, or a personal favorite, Cheshire Cat. These records show Foster has always been able to tread into more commercial waters, while still dropping an extended funk jam on you. In 2022 Foster released Reboot, his first solo album in over three decades, which features son Chris on drums, which picks up right where this legend left off. (Jack London Revue, 529 SW 4th, Sat Feb 24, 8 pm & 10:30 pm, $24.75 - $238.50, tickets here, 21+)

Sudan Archives 

Much of history's greatest jazz music has been made by artists that pushed boundaries and ruffled some feathers. Brittney Parks, better known as Sudan Archives, has that same spirit. Although she’s never claimed to be a jazz artist, the multi-instrumentalist made it clear early on she wanted to make music on her own terms. In her early work, this involved laying electronic textures and taut rhythms over violin. One of her earliest songs “Come Meh Way” led to a recording contract with Stones Throw Records, and since then she’s released two records, including 2022’s stellar Natural Brown Prom Queen. At this point Sudan Archives has created her own genre; everyone else is just following her lead. (Kridel Ballroom, 1119 SW Park, Fri March 1, $49.75, tickets here, 21+, w/ Melanie Charles, and Bad Snacks)