Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Nicholas Payton Big Band @ Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola

[Photo courtesy of http://www.amsartists.com/nicholas_payton/photos.html.]

The Nicholas Payton Big Band
Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola
Jazz at Lincoln Center
March 6th, 2011

By Shannon J. Effinger

It’s a Sunday night here at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, a wonderful performance space with breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As you walk into the club, you’re immediately drawn to the wonderful snapshots of jazz history, all of which feature the late, great trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Since I was a child, I’ve seen countless images of Gillespie—including a memorable guest appearance as a music teacher on The Cosby Show—but nothing like these photos. All of the pictures seem personal, as though we’re not only getting a glimpse of his fascinating life and journeys throughout the world, but also a look at some of the musicians he’s performed with over the years (Max Roach, James Moody, Thelonious Monk). It’s not only inviting for those who come from all over to hear the music, but for future jazz leaders, it’s an omen, a reminder that they can one day join those legends on the wall. And from the sounds of it, trumpeter Nicholas Payton is well on his way.

It’s the final night of this week-long engagement and it’s the perfect night to catch The Nicholas Payton Big Band. Not only because there’s a torrential rainstorm outside that doesn’t want to end, but I missed an opportunity to hear him perform at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in New Orleans last summer, Payton’s hometown, and I’m finally going to hear exactly what I missed.

He opens with a piece called “Once in a Blue Moon,” a tribute to the late jazz pianist Kenny Kirkland. This one’s well suited for Payton and his big band. Not only does it make you aware of his prowess as a bandleader, keeping each section organically in sync with a slight hand or arm gesture, but the intensity of Payton’s trumpet alongside his booming horn section is quite reminiscent of the collaborations between Gil Evans and Miles Davis.

“In the Zone” established a contemplative mood for the evening. There’s some bounce to it, especially in its upswings, but Payton’s vocals, which at first was quite unexpected, brings everything down to a mellow space that in case you forgot you were at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola listening to jazz, this piece was a perfect reminder. The musicians were very much in sync and it was very easy to literally get lost inside of the trills and melodic flourishes of Payton’s trumpet. It was a nice surprise to see Payton actually enjoy his fellow musicians as he would every now and then do a little shoulder bounce.

Payton’s rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Tiger Rag” gave me a taste of what I missed in New Orleans last summer. His punctuated high notes and playful flourishes on trumpet not only injected the spirit of New Orleans into everyone present that night, but it also shows that there’s a strong connection to his roots.

Being only 37, Payton is hardly a traditional musician. Like his native New Orleans, Payton’s sound is an amalgam of many different influences—jazz, ragtime, swing, hip-hop and even R&B. It’s also nice to see that Payton includes more than his fair share of women in his big band, notably saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen. It is rare these days to hear a jazz musician like Nicholas Payton who embraces different sounds and goes against the grain.

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