Nicholas Payton Quartet @ Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, 2/22/18 (by Sean Gough)

PERSONNEL: Nicholas Payton (trumpet, piano, Rhodes, clavinet), Vicente Archer (double bass), Joe Dyson (drum kit), Jacquelene Acevedo (percussion)

SET: Relaxin’ with Nick, El Guajiro, Two, Six (all tunes by Payton)

HIGHLIGHTS: Archer occasionally looking at Payton the way bass players used to look at Erroll Garner. “What’s he gonna do next?” Refreshing to see great musicians who are sometimes thought of as “inside” truly improvising.

Nicholas Payton has gotten a lot of press as a polemicist and writer. He also has a level of respect among musicians and audiences that isn’t earned by blogging. Seeing one of his sets still begs the question: Do y’all realize what he’s doing?

Aside from the craziness of playing a valve instrument and a keyboard simultaneously, Payton has eliminated the intrusive comping and harmonic guessing games that plague quartets. In certain registers, the blend of trumpet and Rhodes actually sounds like a new hybrid instrument. Even when he’s not playing trumpet, Payton already distinguishes himself with the variety of orchestration he gets from piano, Rhodes, and clavinet, and the depth of tunes he can call on from his recent catalogue.

A blindfold test would’ve yielded some interesting responses to the first tune, beginning in the upper registers of the piano. Gently descending in plush tones, Payton and Archer agreed on a pedal point and a tempo, and Dyson and Acevedo tastefully picked their spots to join. Ahmad Jamal might have appreciated the way Payton left everyone room dynamically and otherwise by sometimes just comping with the left hand. Among high, clear piano lines, Payton subtly developed a quotation from “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Turning to Rhodes, trumpet, and finally piano again, this swinging tune was called “Relaxin’ with Nick.”

Acevedo altered the room temperature with bells, chimes, and an instrument that sounded like sifting sand. Moving to congas (and some cowbell), she took a masterful solo, building a melody and chasing several claves/grooves back and forth. These shifts of tempo made the entrance of the band on “El Guajiro” that much more tight. The rest was madness (in the best way). An epic in two parts with some awe-inspiring trumpet, this “El Guajiro” was more turbulent than the track on Afro-Caribbean Mixtape.

What better way to follow that than the angelic “Two” from Payton’s album Numbers. At one point Payton let the melody linger on a little patch on clavinet, then gliding down to the broader sound of the Rhodes. To paraphrase one of his posts from awhile back: “What’s the point of music if it doesn’t make you want to dance or fuck, or bring you closer to God?”

On “Six” (also from Numbers), Payton was preacher, virtuoso trumpeter, and George Clinton-like instigator at the clavinet and Rhodes. He left the audience grooving, transitioning at some point to what sounded like a pop tune that I was embarrassed not to recognize for sure, but evocative of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Big props to Archer for the combination of groundedness and openness that allows maximum mileage from minimal material — plus some strong, wide-ranging solos. And Joe Dyson was the x-factor in making the ensemble everyone’s instrument. He was so effortlessly attuned to the music that the dynamics weren’t dynamics. Even at the most boisterous on “El Guajiro,” the pops and smacks of the drums landed so right that loud didn’t seem loud, quiet didn’t seem quiet, solos didn’t seem like solos. The communal spirit was intact. #BAM

by Sean Gough