Nicholas Payton – Sonic Trance (2003)

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Photo by Michael Wilson

by Mark Saleski

Why do people hit a musical wall at a certain point in their life? They stop listening to anything put out after their high school (or college) years. Worst of all: they just stop listening. Music is no longer a part of their life.

Of course, there are a whole lot of reasons. They mostly boil down to the pressures of adult existence: career, marriage, kids, rent, car payments, divorce, etc.

I can see that, though I have yet to hit “the wall” (and suspect I never will). Hey, priorities do shift. Some things become “unimportant.” But the one excuse I can’t deal with is the “there’s just nothing good out there anymore” waffle. (Yes, I know this really can mean “I can’t find anything that sounds like my old Stones records” … but I’ll ignore that for now). Sorry, if you can’t find something to interest your shakin’ cochlea, well, you’re just not trying. There’s a boatload of great music being made today … but you’ve got to ignore the obvious and do a little digging. Take the jazz world. Sure, you’ve got your young lions (who really aren’t that young anymore), the smooth jazzers (not for me but, hey, you never know) and also the giant jazz reissue machine … maybe there’s something for ya in that big pile. But look beyond that and surprises can be found.

[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.]

I’ll use Nicholas Payton’s Sonic Trance as an example. Now here’s some music that’s not easily pigeonholed. A few years ago, they woulda slapped the “acid jazz” (never liked that term) tag on it.

Sonic Trance takes the spirit of trip-hop and trance music (which you can hear in the beginning moments of “Praalude (sonic trance)” and smashes it headlong into early fusion, particularly Weather Report and electric Miles. Mixed in is a little of the groove-mining found on many of Bill Laswell’s projects (see: Radioaxium: A Dub Transmission and Panthalassa for a dose of what I’m talkin’ about). What you end up with is a whole lotta funk … from many different directions. A musical hologram.

“Fela 1” shows off the electric Miles thing with a screaming wah-trumpet solo. It sounds to me like a person going insane … and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. “Cannabis Leaf Rag 1” starts off with a twisted snippet of “The Entertainer,” then uses that melody as fodder for more explorations. My favorite track is “Velvet Handcuffs.” It’s built around a sparse drum vamp and a single echoing trumpet stab that shows up every couple of bars. The sax begins a response to the horn as the bass and percussion start up to imply a deep groove. Last to enter is a druggy keyboard, dripping angular notes here and there. I just love ensemble workups like this. Instead of just playing changes the group starts with a single idea and takes it from there.

So is this stuff too much for your Mr. NothinGoodOutThere? Dunno …. but it sure wouldn’t hurt him to give it a try.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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