Nicholas Payton | Smoke Sessions


Nicholas Payton | Smoke Sessions Review

by Icrom Bigrad

Nicholas-Payton-cdNicholas Payton has a new project called Smoke Sessions. The album has its roots in Payton’s love of Miles Davis’ 1966 album Four & More. Payton has convened two legendary musicians who played with Davis on that album, bassist Ron Carter and special guest saxophonist George Coleman. He asked Coleman to contribute a pair of tunes. (A third contributor to Four & More, pianist Herbie Hancock, is represented by the composition “Toys).” Rounding out the quartet is drummer Karriem Riggins with Payton filling the keyboard chair and playing the trumpet. Payton explains, “Miles Davis’ ‘Four’ & More was the album that really inspired me to take up music seriously,” Payton explains. “Ever since then, Ron Carter has been an idol and a favorite musician of mine. As long as I’ve been leading bands, I’ve patterned my choice of bassists by the metric of how much Ron they have in their playing. When I’ve looked for pianists in my band over the years, it’s often predicated on how much Herbie they have in their sound. So, this album is really a dream come true for me.”

“Hangin’ and a Jinvin’” is our first taste of the project and instantly establishes that Payton will not preset a straight-ahead album. Instead, he keeps the feels contemporary with a blend of swing, funk, soul, and hip-hop influences. With Riggins’ drum fluidity and Carter’s rock-solid time feel on the bass, this is brought to life. Payton starts on the Fender Rhodes. Playing with tiny motifs and shifting chords, one can hear Carter’s basslines following wherever Payton may lead. Payton eventually switches to the trumpet, and that is when things really heat up. Payton and Carter have strong communication with each other, and it is a delight to hear. Carter explains, “Listen to him play trumpet. He’s listening to my response to what he does — if the trumpet players of today want to try to put him in a place, he should be up there because he listens to what the bass player contributes to his solo.”

“Big George” is the first track on which saxophonist George Colman appears, “Turn-a-Ron” is Coleman’s second guest spot; both are excellent. Speaking of “Big George,” Payton says, “I feel like George didn’t get as much credit as he deserved for being a part of Miles’s experimentations in alternate changes and chord progressions,” Payton says. “That’s why the songs on the album with George tend to be basically four-bar vamps – those four-bar turnarounds and what they would do with them were so influential in changing the landscape of how musicians play chord changes. It was important to me to get into that stuff that they did back in the 60s. George being there was like the cherry on top.” “Big George” is a medium groove that does just that, explores the harmonic possibilities of a simple set of changes between the big ears of this jaunty ensemble. Payton stays on the Rhodes for this one and lets Carter and Colman take the lead.

Smoke Sessions allows Payton to engage with two icons of jazz, Ron Carter and George Colman. The result is the multi-instrumentalist brings his trademark approach of contemporary styles to the elegance and time-honored tradition that these two giants represent. The elastic groove of Payton’s Fender Rhodes and trumpet playing is in full force here. Payton concludes, was “like a pinch-myself moment… I used to pretend I was playing with [these musicians] when I was a child, and now it’s happening. I literally felt like I was walking on air. To have someone I’ve listened to on record and admired from afar actually be a part of something that I created was just beyond my wildest imagination. I remained in a dream state for a couple of months afterward.”

Nicholas Payton, trumpet, Fender Rhodes
Ron Carter, bass
Karriem Riggin, drums
George Coleman, tenor saxophone

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