Nicholas Payton: Relaxin’ with Nick (Smoke Sessions)

A review of the two-disc live set of the first performances of the trumpeter/pianist led trio

Nicholas Payton, Relaxin' with Nick
The cover of Relaxin’ with Nick by Nicholas Payton

Per its title, Relaxin’ with Nick captures Nicholas Payton fully laidback, on music culled from a weekend of performances at NYC’s Smoke earlier this year. Payton unfurls oft-brilliant trumpet and piano/keyboard lines and textures, sometimes simultaneously, over the hand-in-glove grooves of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, the regular rhythm section for Bill Charlap, among many other credits. Relaxed, yes, but fully confident might be a more apt description: These 15 tracks, mostly originals mixed with three chestnuts, make for a hefty collection of serious—but not self-serious—music by an artist who seems to constantly evolve.

“Stablemates” opens with an extended prelude of distorted electronic skronk, hinting at the tune, before Payton picks up his trumpet to sound Benny Golson’s soul-jazz melody, then switches to piano, effects-laden Fender Rhodes, and finally his primary instrument for nicely exploratory solos, with the tune also spiked by a provocative drum solo. “I Hear a Rhapsody” opens with mellow Rhodes declarations before shifting into chunky, swaggering swing, opening up for one of Payton’s most rambunctious trumpet improvisations, packed with multiple flurries of notes and artfully connected shorter phrases. “Tea for Two” begins as a delicacy before moving to hard-grooving overdrive.  

The double-disc set, capturing the trio’s first performances together, is dominated by Payton’s originals, including some tunes that first appeared on Letters and Numbers and Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. Vocal samples are artfully used on the chill-lounge gem “Jazz Is a Four-Letter Word” and the Latin-tinged jam “El Guajiro,” the former featuring Max Roach’s voice and the latter including spoken incantations by Cuban trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal. The warm, swinging title track, which prominently features acoustic piano, opens the album with a retro chamber-jazz vibe that juxtaposes nicely with the future-jazz tracks. It all feels quite intimate and personal: Welcome to Nick’s world. Relax, stay for a while.

Preview, buy or download Relaxin’ with Nick on Amazon!

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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.