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Review: Payton continues great jazz tradition Downtown

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By Bob Karlovits
Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 11:37 p.m.

Nicholas Payton insists he does not play jazz, and he is dead wrong.

The trumpeter says he plays “modern African American music,” trying to stay away from the typification he believers has hurt jazz and its musicians over the years.

But in his concert April 16 at the Cabaret Theater, Downtown, he showed he is doing what all the best musicians in the history of jazz have done: He tries to propel the music beyond where it is sitting now.

His Jazz Appreciation Month concert was hard to slide in those restrictive holes they call categories. So was his playing.

Payton played a great deal of trumpet, but he did it in a tone and style that was closer to that of a rhythm-and-blues saxophonist. He also spent the concert seated behind and electric keyboard and next to the grand piano.

His work at the keyboards lifted the trio with bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Marcus Gilmore into a quartet of sorts, with Payton playing two roles. While his keyboard and trumpet work was the most obvious sound, Archer and Gilmore both produced powerful work. Archer's bass lines were subtle gems. Once a listener became aware of them, it was hard to not concentrate on them.

The music was the biggest single element, though. The concert was dominated by originals such as Payton's “Let It Ride” and “The Backward Step,” both heavy in soulful rhythm and melody. But he led “Let It Ride” into his version of Benny Golson's classic “Stablemates” and also drifted the new “Triptych” into a fast version of “Days of Wine and Roses.”

Payton also did a beautiful offering of Keith Jarrett's “No Lonely Nights” in which he moved its ballad form into a blues.

In doing all of that, Payton was doing what the best jazz musicians have done throughout its history. When Louis Armstrong made the cornet an instrument tho played tunes other than brass band favorites, he created a new instrument. When Horace Silver, John Coltrane and Miles Davis shaped hard-bop into a jazz form, they took the music beyond its bebop days.While his work might not be as profound, Payton is melding the rhythms of hip-hop with jazz while not cheapening either.

And, yes, Nicholas, it really is still jazz.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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