Spin It: Nicholas Payton, Bitches

Nicholas Payton, Bitches

2011, IN+OUT Records

Nicholas Payton, Bitches

Nicholas Payton, Bitches

This October I was floored by the Nicholas Payton Quartet at New York’s Birdland. Backed by Chris Smith (bass), Lawrence Fields (piano) and Ulysses Owens (drums), Payton played his trumpet with vision and rage, blasting the audience with cool, bop and New Orleans jazz. Often he started a song by toying with a simple riff, like a stoned Miles Davis, before launching into searing insurrection. A couple times he sang, exposing a little tenderness. Rebellion and revelation: left hook, right hook. I was reminded that jazz could still be dangerous and unpredictable. Afterwards I purchased Payton’s new release, Bitches, and was floored again. What the hell is this collage of synthesizers and drum machines, this smooth and fusion jazz featuring Payton’s voice (and several female singers) more than his fiery trumpet playing? “I wanted to create a modern R&B joint,” Payton writes in the liner notes, “that had the flavor of what people loved in those albums that were recorded in the ‘70s and ‘80s — which I believe to be the greatest era overall of pop music.” This explains the hints of Prince and Sade, and why the intro to “By My Side” reminds me of the interlude in “99 Luftballoons.” But then the musician continues to clarify that “the idea of this album is to give the public something they can think about. Something provocative.” Through this prism Payton succeeds. Subsequent listens prove Bitches to be a series of stabs at the new, the unusual, the lighthearted, and the controversial. It doesn’t matter that some of them miss their mark; the guy tries. Robot voices? Biblical imagery? Marital themes? A song called “iStole Your iPhone”? Sure. Take the lyrics to the final and title track, which touch upon American troops in Iraq, “the Negroid race,” interstellar space, Santa Claus screwing an elf, and — um — Payton’s “sausage meat.” This stuff is bonkers. Nicholas Payton is a true artist, though. Like Prince, he has the talent and freedom to do whatever he wants. We may not always understand, but that’s not the point.

— Benjamin Smith

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