Sunday, May 12, 2019


Nicholas Payton
Of the great jazz trumpeters from New Orleans, Nicholas Payton is my favorite. For years, the eight terrific albums he made on Verve Records were constants on my playlist. I’ve watched Payton change over the years. Years ago, he eschewed the word jazz and resented anyone who called him a jazz musician. He rebranded jazz Black American Music (BAM), and he started making more fusion-derived recordings such as “Sonic Trance,” “Numbers,” and his most recent date “Afro-Cuban Mixtape.” Gone, unfortunately, was the Nicholas Payton of old who made gems such as “Payton’s Place,” “Nick @Night,” and “Dear Louis.” Over the weekend, Payton’s trio -- bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Marcus Gilmore -- made its first appearance at the Blue Llama, a new jazz club in Ann Arbor Michigan. The club opened last month to glowing reviews. It’s an excellent place for live jazz. Friday evening the capacity crowd experienced Payton as a pianist and a vocalist. He played music from his current catalogue, including three movements from a newly composed suite. I enjoyed some of the concert but was disappointed overall. He spent most of it moving from the Fender Rhodes to the piano, and he closed the concert singing. It pains me to say he’s neither a good pianist nor singer. It appeared he’d just learned to play the piano and he was anxious to play it for whomever willing to listen. I was shocked he spent so much time not doing what he was put on earth for. That's playing the shit out the trumpet. When he did play it, his blowing was majestic. He’s still a brilliant trumpeter, and he could’ve blown the paint off the ceiling if he wanted to. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to attend the concert. I prayed he’d channel his former self and play a few cuts from his Verve recordings. That never happened. Save for some goosebumps-inducing solos from Hurst and Gilmore the concert was a letdown.

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