Closing in on 25 years since his Verve debut, versatile trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Payton creates something remarkable in this age of limited musical attention spans — a lengthy double-disc set of alternately soft-spoken and off-the-chain raucous live performances captured at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York City.
Though certain pieces on Relaxin’ With Nick
— or parts of them, like the first few minutes of the ultimately hard-swinging “1983” and a moody, expansive take on “When I Fall In Love” — are indeed laid-back chill-outs, the album title has little to do with literal tempo. Grooving mightily with two unrelated Washingtons, bassist Peter and drummer Kenny, Payton puts any inkling of meditative cool to bed with the polyrhythmic cha-cha-cha-driven fusion jam of “El Guajiro”; a snazzy swing through “Tea For Two”; and his otherworldly, George Duke-esque synth solo on Benny Golson’s “Stablemates.” The “relaxing” seems to refer to the casual, buoyant sense of fun Payton has with his explosive trio as he showcases his often ear-popping, equally burning melodic power and adventurous improvisational chops on the horn, piano and retro keyboards.
In a realm where most instrumentalists are stereotyped as masters of a single instrument, the most liberating 15 minutes happen on “Five.” Over quickly shifting rhythms, Payton switches effortlessly from trumpet to keys to piano, artfully bridging seductive trad jazz and fiery jazz fusion. Most likely the audience was tapping its toes throughout the show, anticipating when the next unexpected burst of elegance or percussive craziness might occur. Nothing truly relaxing about that. Yet there’s still something fresh, loose and creatively revealing about listening to Payton, free of studio confines and parameters, vibing thoughtfully and joyfully with his pals and sharing all these elements in such an intimate setting. — Jonathan Widran