January 16, 2005
BY JASON SONGE
The line for Nicholas Payton's second set at Snug Harbor Sunday night went out into the entranceway. The hostess warned those without reservations, and she had to deal with the ubiquitous one guy: "Even when it's been sold out, they've let me in." Well, good for you, you annoying man. Get your uppity self into line and see what happens.
As Payton's band waited in the back of the performance room to be introduced individually, I noticed Ocie Davis in the mix. That meant one thing--longtime drummer Adonis Rose was no longer with Payton. The famed trumpeter(read his bio at nicholaspayton.com) was also joined by a tenor saxophonist, an upright bassist, and a pianist. Davis actually turned out to be the night's standout sideman. Until a hard bop number near the end of the set, Payton hadn't given Davis a solo. He let loose and rocked the place. Amazing, fast rolls around the drumkit broken up by hook-laden cymbal crashes. If he had something to prove, I'm pretty sure he proved it.
The first two songs had a moderate tempo and a cool groove. They bordered on traditional, and I thought Payton was creating a precedent for the night, but I realized he had a different plan after he introduced the next song as "Let Go." Payton was buttering up the audience, building from slower numbers into contemporary songs broken up by ballads. "Let Go" was evidence. The song had a beautifully simple and devastatingly fat and funky bass line. This was soul Jazz a la NYC Funk/Jazz trio Soulive. The song was full of an odd number of rhythm breaks(sudden changes in direction). They weren't predictable or a result of noticeable progressions. I'm surprised the guys with the sheet could even follow it. Frankly, the song was bad-ass. It showed that Payton wasn't afraid to embrace other genres in spite of his respect for the past.
Payton was dressed in a suit, and he conducted himself with a formal, T.C.B. attitude. Almost martial. I didn't see him smile. He quickly and respectfully retired to the side of the stage when a band member took a solo, and when I stood close to him before he went onstage, I sensed he was a heavy cat. Yes, he filled out his suit and was someone I wouldn't want to fight, but it was more than that. He had a presence, an aura. Whether that can be created or not is another discussion.
Payton was no starnger to note flurries, and he had a few tricks up his sleeve(example: augmenting a trumpet sound for personality), but he didn't blow with bravado and superhuman strength like Maurice Brown or Terence Blanchard. Payton's talent laid in intelligent arrangements and a subtle, effective use of dynamics. During one song, Payton and his saxophonist were playing notes a step off of each other. This was unconventional and ear twistingly enjoyable. Even better was when Payton had the rhythm section build up the amplitude of the song with a different melody just for he and his saxophonist to drop in and give me a wonderful aural overload with the original line. Payton had such control over his trumpet that he let his notes fade away in volume without damaging their former integrity. His band also lowered their volume and then raised it again during a seemingly regular verse for effect. This band was on it. A great display.