Something Else! sneak peek: Nicholas Payton – Bitches (2011)

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by Nick DeRiso

Forgive me if I thought this was going to be trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s further ruminations on the turbulent brilliance of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Instead, Payton really means it.

Of course, any experimental trumpet record — and this one, combining elements of soul, funk, street sounds and jazz, is certainly one of them — can’t help but reference Miles Davis. There’s “Freesia,” which takes a page out of the hip-hop amalgams Davis was just beginning to explore when he passed in 1991. “Truth or Dare” goes further back, to Davis’ initial forays into synthesized funk-pop on albums like 1981’s The Man With the Horn. “Indigo” opens up into a broader tableau that recalls Davis soundscapes on In A Silent Way from 1969.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: New Orleans-born trumpeter Nicholas Payton goes in-depth on the album ‘Bitches,’ an R&B-infused project the promises to challenge jazz traditionalists.]

All of that, however, is subtext. Payton’s album title says it all, as Bitches follows the birth and death of relationship, from winking come-on and dizzying passion all the way over to angry recrimination and legal paperwork. Payton underlines the theme of romantic separation by singing and playing on this album almost entirely alone, save for a few notable guest duets.

Now, after breaking up with his wife, Payton has seen Concord reject this 15-track song cycle, his first since 2008’s Into The Blue. So, in more ways that one, Nicholas Payton is now going it alone. Rather than retrench into arid jazz cliches, however, he’s dived head-long into a roiling R&B unconventionality.

“By My Side,” the opener, boasts the nervy synthesizer soul of early Prince, and a sensual cry of belief in everything love has to offer. “Freesia,” a vocal collaboration with Esperanza Spalding, is a soaring, intertwined celebration of ardor’s first tingling moments. “Shades of Hue,” with a series of pretty stanzas by Payton on the trumpet, unfurls like a classic Stevie Wonder ballad — nakedly hopeful, spiritual and kind. By “Truth or Dare,” though, things have turned. “You Are The Spark” is a shattering remembrance of everything that used to be, a closeness now turned cold. It’s all over by the time Payton duets with Cassandra Wilson on “You Take Me Places I’ve Never Been Before,” a dark, almost narcotic elegy.

There are moments of impish humor and cathartic release too, times when Payton clearly sees the gallow’s humor in adoration’s demise. “iStole Your iPhone,” greasy and propulsive, works as a witty exploration of the pencil-thin line between love and hate. The title track, featuring a slinky call-and-response with Chinah Blac (Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews Band), is a nasty little second-line stomp peppered with f-you quips directed not just at the ex but at her whole gender.

Over the top? Perhaps. After all, with the touching “Give Light, Live Life, Love,” Payton’s already answered many of his own questions, anyway. The New Orleans native admits to wanting — no, needing, love. Feeling small, sometimes, inside. Getting furious, in particular at first, when things don’t work out. Understanding, finally, that life doesn’t always adhere to our timetable. And having the stength, in time, to move on. Inside his soulfully swaying piano solo here, as the multi-instrumentalist moves up and down the same arching scale of emotion, you get the sense that Payton has made some semblance of peace with it all.

He just had to get a few things off his chest first.

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Nicholas Payton’s Bitches is not yet commercially available, but has been posted for download on his official Web site.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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