Nicholas Payton burst onto the scene in the early ’90s as the Next Big Thing in jazz trumpet, a man with a horn defined by luminescent tone, technical virtuosity and a demonstrable grounding in the jazz tradition. In recent years, he’s also effectively preached the gospel of what he calls “Black American Music,” or #BAM. And, at least since his post-Katrina midnight jams at Snug Harbor in his hometown of New Orleans, Payton has incorporated Fender Rhodes into many of his performances, often playing keys and trumpet simultaneously.
For the ambitious, two-disc Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, largely created by a band that debuted at last year’s Jazz Fest, Payton connects the dots globally, exploring (as he explains in his extensive liner notes) how the music he loves traveled from Africa to the Caribbean and finally to New Orleans and other American cities. It’s a sumptuous sonic potpourri, incorporating electric and acoustic jazz, funk, R&B, various sound effects, spoken word, DJ scratching and “found” audio. And there are several old-school touches along the way, including the sound of a tape being loaded onto a reel-to-reel at the start of the first disc and a needle dropping onto vinyl at the beginning of disc two.
Daniel Sadownick’s unaccompanied congas open the title track, and Payton, keyboardist Kevin Hays, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Joe Dyson build the piece into a sort of freewheeling, chill-lounge jam, strafed with open-ended trumpet soloing and spoken snippets. “#BAMboula,” built on the rhythm of the same name, includes bits of interviews with Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey, while the voices of Miles, Max Roach and Ellington figure into the heady stew of “Jazz Is a Four-Letter Word.” Cuban rhythms and textures center “La Guajira”; “El Guajiro” is spiked with DJ Lady Fingaz’s turntable wizardry; and the duo piece “Madmwazél Ayiti” features Hays on piano, accompanied by Payton on an upright bass belonging to his late father, Walter Payton. Payton’s clavinet playing fuels the trippy slow-burn funk of “Kimathi (Main Theme).”
A string quartet undergirds Payton’s haunting trumpet declarations on the poignant “Jewel,” the second CD’s opening track, followed by the similarly tinted “Junie’s Interlude” and leading into the ’70s funk- and disco-punched “Junie’s Boogie.” Payton offers breathy vocals on the ballad-to-swing tune “Othello”; hip-hop fuels “The Egyptian Second Line (Instrumental)”; and the bluesy groove tune “Relaxification (Midnight at Tyler’s)” was inspired by a now-defunct but much beloved New Orleans club. Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole’s spoken benediction tops the start of closer “Call and Response,” its coda the sound of a tape flying loose from its reel, a story still being told. Payton’s latest makes for a savory chapter in that tale.Originally Published