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June 2008

Nicholas Payton
Into the Blue
Nonesuch Records

Trumpeter Payton came up in the early ’90s as a much-hyped 20-something Young Lion from the Crescent City—an obvious disciple of Wynton Marsalis. Over time he has engaged in all manner of experimentation, from hard-boppish takes on New Orleans staples (1995’s Gumbo Nouveau) to a heartfelt Louis Armstrong tribute (2001’s Dear Louis) to a wah-wah-inflected paean to electric Miles Davis (2003’s Sonic Trance). Into the Blue shows the 35-year-old trumpeter dealing with seasoned authority as player, composer and bandleader.

On the moody opener “Drucilla,” he luxuriates in the ultra-slow tempo like Miles Davis on “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” playing off of Kevin Hays’ sparse piano accompaniment with a beautiful, fat tone and deliberate phrasing. Drummer Marcus Gilmore underscores the atmospheric proceedings with gentle brushwork and melodic touches with mallets on tom-toms in the down section, while also swinging effervescently beneath solos by Hays and Payton on the energized up-section that emerges midway through the piece. Payton demonstrates great command in the high register on this uptempo swing section.

“Let It Ride” establishes a retro ’70s vibe reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters/Mwandishi bands with Hays switching to Fender Rhodes. Payton floats lyrically and dreamily in halftime over a churning polyrhythmic undercurrent created by Gilmore’s loose push-and-pull with percussionist Daniel Sadownick. “Triptych” is the hardest-hitting number here, with Gilmore laying down a slamming backbeat and Sadownick layering on Afro-Cuban percussive colors on conga and cowbell. Hays crafts an atmospheric interlude with mesmerizing Rhodes ostinatos that serve as a springboard into some probing improvisations and bold trumpet statements by Payton. The keyboardist also delivers a particularly aggressive solo on this provocative piece.

Payton turns in a strongly emotive performance on a rendition of Jerry Goldsmith’s atmospheric “Chinatown,” the title track from the soundtrack of Roman Polanski’s noir-ish 1974 film, then gets greasy on the N’awlins funk number “Nida,” penned by his father, bassist and New Orleans jazz icon Walter Payton. He displays some elegant muted trumpet work on his own affecting ballad, the aptly titled “Blue,” which also marks his debut as a vocalist, and he throws down with his talented crew on the authentic Mardi Gras Indians-styled “Fleur De Lis.” They close with some Afro-Cuban burn on the clave-fueled “The Charleston Hop.” Produced in New Orleans by Bob Belden, Into the Blue may be Payton’s most satisfying outing to date.

Originally published in June 2008
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