Music – regardless of genre – has and will always be hinged upon timeless traditions. Regardless of how cutting edge a new movement might seem, the creation of music – in spite of new technology – will always contain echoes of the past. Not convinced? Listen to the opening lines of Low End Theory when Q-Tip told his daddy that things go in cycles. While The Abstract’s comparison between Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson doesn’t quite hold up in 2014 the way it did in 1991, Q-Tip’s notion of things going in cycles isn’t exactly a new idea. The late English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge echoed a similar sentiment when he said that, “All new news is old news happening to new people.” Nietzsche’s concept of “Eternal Recurrence,” King Solomon’s “Nothing new under the sun,” and Nas’ “Time is Illmatic, keep static like a wool fabric” also all point to the idea that time is cyclical rather than linear. Exclusive Interview: Nicholas Payton's 'Numbers' Pt. II Nicholas Payton also shares the same views about time that Nas, King Solomon, Nietzsche, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Q-Tip have expressed. While each great thinker’s conception of time have manifested itself in different forms (Q-Tip talking to his pops, Muggeridge talking about news, et al.), Payton use of an old Ghanaian image of a bird reaching backwards to grab an egg from its back also points to the perception that time is a continuum .

 This is the second part of our interview with Nicholas Payton. To read the first part about how Clark Terry once thought that Payton was a “sad trombone player whose arms were too short to reach the sixth position,” click here.

Revive: A lot of younger musicians might not have the opportunity to play music for people to dance to. What’s your advice to the next generation of players who want to tap into the tribal DNA?

Nicholas Payton: [Laughs] Come to a Nicholas Payton gig. I’m also not that old, I didn’t grow up in an era where dance was celebrated. I grew up in an era when most jazz musicians were disconnected from the dance aspect. Jazz was relegated to concert halls and clubs where people had to sit stiff. I didn’t play in the ‘40s or the ‘50s.

My connection to dance is from New Orleans, playing in brass bands, playing in the street, and playing for parties. I attribute all my rhythm sensibilities and how music moves people socially, physically, and communally to growing up in New Orleans and growing up in the Tremé neighborhood. We would get together, start playing tunes, walk down the street, and we would have a parade. Everybody from the 2 year-old to the 90 year-old knows what body movement goes with what rhythm. They understand the culture and the history. It’s the only city in the world – which I know of – that’s like that. It’s lost some of that because of gentrification, but there’s still an intangible character in New Orleans that exists and cannot be denied. I attribute my sensibility of dance, rhythm, and the communal aspect to growing up and living in New Orleans. R: Let’s talk about Numbers. You mentioned that you felt a kinship with Butcher Brown. I know you’ve been playing with Corey Fonville for a while, but what was it about this group of young musicians that made you feel this connection?

NP: I knew Corey when he was in his late teens and he was still in school. He was going to the Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific. I just kept my eye on him and as soon as he finished I scooped him up. When he did finish school I started using him for gigs that summer. He would always tell me about this cat named Devonne Harris. He would send me clips and say, “He’s a multi-instrumentalist like you. I think you’d like him.” I listened to Devonne and I said, “Yeah, I dig this cat.” This was before Butcher Brown even existed and before they became a band. Then when they started doing things as a band I dug it. They were of the same mindset as me and they didn’t seem to be swayed by a lot of the post-Dillaites that are only interested in abstraction. They played funk that felt good, and they weren’t pretentious. So after a few years of mentoring Corey I hit him up and said, “We should do something.” So I went down to Virginia and I didn’t know what to expect or what was going to happen. I brought a lot of music and we just started running through shit and it felt really good from the top. Within three days I walked away with an album. I got together with them again a couple of months later. I brought in a lot of sketches that I’ve had for years. A lot of the things that I’m doing with them are things that I’ve been sitting on forever. I’ve been in the mode  – since starting my label – where I want to put out as much product as possible. I have so much music that I’ve accumulated over the years that I want to get out. Having my own label allows me the autonomy to release albums without having someone say, “You just released something six months ago. Why don’t you wait another year?” I want to put out whatever I want to put out when it feels right for me. So I brought all these sketches and we just ran them down and it just clicked. After the second session… I was excited about it so I said, “I’m going to put this one out first.” That’s how it came about.

R: Can you describe Jellowstone Studios where the sessions for Numbers took place?

NP: It’s a converted living room. It’s basically like we’re chilling in someone’s living room, which I dig because it has an informal vibe. It’s not like a studio environment and it just lends to the warmth of the vibe and the sound.

R: The members of Butcher Brown are based in Richmond, Virginia, which is where D’Angelo grew up. Is it fair to say that a lot of the reason for Butcher Brown’s sound comes from where they’re from?

NP: I would say so, yes.

R: What is it about that area that influences artists? NP: I think it’s a thing with places with rivers. It has a certain flow to the sound. The Mississippi River and the cities that are along there like New Orleans have a certain flow to it. Richmond has the James River and that has a vibe and a flow. Cities with rivers have a certain thing to it. Cities with lakes have another thing to it. Cities with mountains have their vibe. The environment affects energy and sound is the aural manifestation of energy. The geographical area of where you’re at and where you’re located affects and imbues a certain sonic vibration. So there is something about where those cats come from in Virginia and that affects how they hear, play, feel, move, and see. It affects the senses and that affects how you transmit that to your instrument.

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R: You mentioned the term Sankofa in your press release. Could you explain what Sankofa is and what that means to you?

NP: It means a continuum. Time exists on a continuum and not on a line where we move from point A to point B.  The image of Sankofa is a Ghanaian symbol of a bird reaching back and getting an egg from its back. Birth, death, and rebirth exist in a circle. It’s about respecting ancestry, youth, and birth and seeing how they’re connected as one thing and not as separate things. This project with Butcher Brown speaks to that.  It’s not about myself moving on with my career and advancing. It would mean nothing if I didn’t go back and help the youth and mentor some other cats in the same way that Clark Terry did for me.

R: Thank you that puts a nice arc to this entire interview. This could just be my own observation and bias, but I’m noticing a shift back to feel-good music that grooves. I think it’s sort of a natural response to the near-academic manner that Black American Music was being performed. Do you think that there’s a paradigm shift in the culture at large?

NP: Personally, that’s always been the case for me. As abstract as I may have been during my avant-garde moments like Sonic Trance or even Bitches, the idea is always to create beautiful music that feels good. But the more that I see things that don’t feel good celebrated, it makes me more steadfast in wanting to present my music to feel even better – if that’s possible. It’s a big reason to why I did this Numbers album and that’s what we’re striving to do, bring back that feel-good.

It’s never old and it’s not passé. As the Savior of Archaic Pop, I feel like it’s my duty to bring to life the elements of the foundation that are timeless, which is the embodiment of Sankofa.

 Purchase your copy of ‘Numbers’ via iTunes


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