There’s been perhaps no one who has been as notorious a provocateur over the past two years as Nicholas Payton. The “Savior of Archaic Pop” has sounded off via his blog and social media about a myriad of topics, none more than his campaign to diminish the term Jazz in favor of #BAM (Black American Music). His words have been so polarizing and engaging that it’s easy for some to forget that he is regarded as one of the finest trumpet players on Earth. During a set at the Iridium Club in Times Square, however, Payton and his trio XXX – comprising of bassist Vicente Archer and legendary drummer Lenny White – showcased that his proficiency as an instrumentalist goes far beyond the trumpet. Although he played multiple instruments on his 2011 album Bitches, his versatility cannot be fully appreciated until it is beheld up close.

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The first surprise of the night came during the first song of the night, “The Backward Step.” Payton sat down at a Fender Rhodes, playing lulling, plaintive chords. The shocking part was not him playing Rhodes in lieu of trumpet, but of his playing Rhodes and trumpet simultaneously! As White played a hi-hat heavy march, Payton held down the horn with his right hand, while continuing to play respite chords on the keyboard with his left. His trumpet solos were reminiscent of the kind of soulful phrasings found throughout the CTI Records catalog. He segued seamlessly from contemporary tones to a more traditional atmosphere on Miles Davis’ “Drag Dog.” Despite the ’50s style swing provided by the subliminal duet between White and Archer, Payton’s Rhodes gave the performance a gospel undertone that made the song a thicker vibe.

With all this attention on the flexibility of Payton, it didn’t take long for White to assert himself as the legend that he’s proven to be. The Return to Forever skins-sensei opened “CattLet Out of the Bag,” a composition from fellow drum superstar Mike Clark, with an almost violent display of various rhythms, snapping his snare as if trying to pop balloons. After a few two-note jabs every four bars, Payton and Archer flowed right in, making for a clinic of glossy funk that would’ve made Donny Hathaway a proud man. After “CattLett” put a cramp in everyone’s neck from massive head nodding , XXX set a sexy mood with “Shades of Hue,” replacing Payton-the-multi-instrumentalist for Payton-the-crooner. He emoted with a breathy, confessional vocal, hovering gently over “radio friendly” Rhodes chords, before turning 45 degrees to solo on grand piano. “Shades of Hue” was also Archer’s main opportunity to show his own prowess, with an opening solo that had him exploring every note of the bottom like a kid dragging his finger across a bowl to get that last taste of cake mix.

To further drive home his penchant for conquering various sounds, Payton led XXX through “I Wanna Stay in New Orleans,” an ode to his “Mississippi Delta home,” once again featuring Payton singing. If the crowd simply closed their eyes, they would’ve been transported to Louisiana’s culture capital with the ferry floating in front of them while the Rebirth Brass played behind them. Before exiting stage, much to the dismay of all in attendance, Payton spoke over his Dilla-esque “Prelude,” urging everyone to “be good to yourselves and be good to others.” Whether you get taken by his artistry or his incendiary twitter commentary, you’ll never be bored by Nicholas Payton.

Set List

The Backward Step
Drag Dog
CatLett Out of the Bag
Shades of Hue
I Wanna Stay in New Orleans
Prelude

Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneaddict)

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