Nicholas Payton, The Couch Sessions Review
by Icrom Bigrad
Nicholas Payton continues his exploration of playing the trumpet and the piano, Fender Rhodes, and clavinet on his album The Couch Sessions. Payton is joined by Buster Williams on bass and Lenny White on drums. Payton also uses bits of electronics and spoken word samples to identify his message within the music. The thirteen songs draw arrangements from the jazz catalog, Payton’s compositions, and words from some of music’s most visionary artists.
“I decided to use Buster and Lenny for their shared history,” Payton says, “not only working with each other but also with my favorite artist ever – Miles Davis. There are a lot of connections between the artists on the album and the lineages that they either came out of or were integral in starting. Working with Buster and Lenny together was a bucket list item for me.”
Geri Allen’s “Feed the Fire” opens the session with Payton performing on trumpet, piano, and the Fender Rhodes. The Fender Rhodes accompanies the spoken words describing the music scene in Detroit. Buster and Lenny gently join; around the two-and-a-quarter-minute mark, the trio finally sets a groove, and the music begins. Payton eventually moves to the piano and back to Rhodes for his solo. His agility has noticeably increased since his last project, where he played both piano and trumpet. Buster and Lenny provide a beautiful swing feel which elevates the music. Finally, the trumpet enters, and the magic really happens — Payton’s tone and approach are very distinctive on the trumpet.
Payton includes his original compositions, and one is composed for Buster called “Bust-a-Move.” The electronics add a looping spoken word before a seventies inspired groove is established. There is a strong influence of hip-hop here, but the groove is certainly deeper with this ensemble. The composition follows a similar pattern as most of the tunes on the album, with Payton and company slowly building the groove to the solo section where Payton performs on his various instruments.
The Couch Sessions is another documentation of Payton’s laser focus as a band leader. The album shows a marked improvement in his piano and Rhodes soloing abilities from Smoke Sessions. However, the addition of electronics and spoken word seem out of place overall. I find the spoken word a distraction. As Keith Jarrett says at the beginning of “Blossom,” “Music is not something you can use words to describe.” Though the spoken words on this album are creative in their use, they take away from the overall flow and charm of the music. Payton speaks the clearest and loudest with his playing, with no words necessary.