Nicholas Payton: Relaxin’ with Nick
More often than not, you’ll see Nicholas Payton described as a jazz trumpeter. That’s accurate only to a point: Payton has long argued that the word “jazz” needs to be retired, that it’s oppressive and hackneyed; instead, he prefers the more inclusive umbrella term #BAM, for Black American Music. As for the instrumentation, Payton is indeed one of the finest trumpeters in contemporary music— whatever you choose to call it—but he has long since branched out to playing keyboards as well, and to define him solely as a trumpeter in 2019 would be as limiting as labeling his music jazz. On Relaxin’ with Nick , a double-disc trio session recorded at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York over three nights in 2019, Payton—accompanied by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington—displays his mastery on trumpet, as well as piano and Fender Rhodes. There are also vocals and electronics in the mix. For much of the set, he sticks to his own compositions, one of the most prominent of which is the 10-minute tour de force that reiterates where he’s coming from: “Jazz is a FourLetter Word.” Switching off between piano and trumpet, injecting his own narrative, incorporating elements of hip-hop and a more traditional piano trio approach, Payton makes it clear that he won’t be cornered. Several tracks eschew standard titling altogether in favor of single letters or numbers (“A,” “Five”), but Payton also ventures into the world of standards (“Tea for Two,” “When I Fall in Love,” “I Hear a Rhapsody”), perhaps to say that, while he refuses to let his music fall down a retro hole, he does indeed appreciate where it’s long dwelled.