Trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s kaleidoscopic talent was on full, and generally satisfying, display with his trio at the Newmark Theatre. He frequently accompanied himself with his left hand on an electric piano as he played the trumpet held in his right. Sitting at the junction of an angle formed by the electric piano and a concert grand, he turned from one to the other, and occasionally played both at once. He sang soulfully in falsetto or a low baritone. He played bebop and hinted at hip-hop. He paid homage to New Orleans, his hometown, with a parade beat and lyrics that mentioned red beans, Mandina’s and Tipitina’s.
In the veteran drummer Bill Stewart and young bassist Vicente Archer, Payton has band mates fully up to the challenges of their leader’s quick-change artistry. Pieces called “Two,” “Three” and “Six” from Payton’s album Numbers were vamps that opened spaces for improvisation. Payton, Stewart and Archer filled the spaces with unflagging energy. When it was his job to keep time, Archer played walking bass lines to great effect. When he soloed, there was clarity in his sound and logic in the melodies he invented. On Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” Payton ended one of his trumpet-electric piano excursions with a run up to a trumpet note well above high C, then pivoted to the grand piano for a solo full of chromatic modulations, riffs and repeats. Stewart slashed and burned behind Payton, then followed with a drum solo that was both fiery and constructed with geometrical logic.
Payton sang “ When I Fall In Love,” with intonation all over the place, apparently on purpose, although the nature of the purpose was unclear. He ended the song on trumpet with flutters followed by lovely long tones. When Payton held the trumpet in both hands, reared back on the bench and concentrated his considerable energy and creativity in the construction of a jazz soloas he did in variations on phrases from Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”he made it clear that he is one of the trumpet’s contemporary jazz masters. Given his development of other specialties, it will be interesting to see where his eclecticism is taking him.
For the trio’s encore, Payton announced a piece from his next album, which is to be called Letters. “The name of it, he said, is…”
…“A,” shouted most of the audience. It was an attractive song of standard construction that ended with a soft and welcome trumpet solo.