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Nik Payton and Bob Wilber: Swinging the Changes

Nik Payton owes his career as a professional musician to the unlikely arrival of Bob Wilber in his father’s dentist chair in the English town of Chipping Campden when Payton was 15 years old and Wilber nearly 60. Payton, who was just taking up the saxophone, became Wilber’s student. Twenty years later, the two have combined on disc for the first time with highly enjoyable results.

Their unison playing is a tribute to the time they spent as teacher and pupil, yet they are easily distinguishable, if only because Wilber, who plays the higher register alto and soprano saxophones for the most part, is on the left, and Payton, who plays tenor, is on the right. On “Skybloo” (Wilber’s playful rewrite of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”) and “Dialogue” (another Wilber original), they both play clarinet, but they still can be told apart readily, as Payton, despite now being a mature player, tends to defer to and support Wilber, who betrays no signs of age. In his youth, of course, Wilber served much the same apprenticeship with Sidney Bechet, and on #Swinging the Changes# it’s clear that he found his own apprentice, who has now grown into an accomplished player himself, albeit not one emboldened to show the master up on their joint effort.

Rather, Payton finds ways of paying tribute, notably on his original “The Sage,” a reference not only to Wilber’s status, but also to his middle name. Accompanists Richard Busiakiewicz (piano), Dave Green (bass), and Steve Brown (drums) efficiently fill out the arrangements, and Busiakiewicz even gets a few short solos before the spotlight swings back to the leaders.

Originally Published