Nicholas Payton
Gumbo Nouveau
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Looking at the list of tunes on Nicholas Payton's second album as a leader, it's tough not to shrug: Haven't we already heard the history-obsessed young players doing rather stodgy versions of these old New Orleans standards? Why on earth do we need another peppy treatment of "When The Saints Go Marching In"?

But from the military march cadence that opens "Whoopin' Blues" to the pastel coloration of the imaginative "Saints", it's clear that this is no ordinary blowing date. Payton has spent some serious time with the good-time music that's heard in parades and streetcorners throughout the French Quarter: The New Orleans native, who did his first brass band gig at age 8, has dutifully played the blues and followed the familiar contours of many a steamrolling "shout" chorus.

Because he's been an entertainer with this music, he knows how restrictive the conventions of New Orleans jazz can be. More importantly, he knows how to subvert them: In between the lip slurs and Louis Armstrong-like stop-time shimmies of "Wild Man Blues", Payton injects a healthy dose of thoroughly modern thinking, phrases that dart in and out of the harmony without trashing the music's innate exuberence.

It's a powerful combination - the rhythmic charge of the shuffling second line supporting the cerebral labyrinths of modern jazz. The trick is in the arrangements. Payton reharmonizes "Saints", the usually cornball "After You've Gone" and the standard "St. James Infirmary" with rich modal constructions that encourage - and demand - genuine exploration. He transforms "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans" into a wistful ballad showcase (in which his quote of "It Might As Well Be Spring" feels entirely appropriate), and throughout, uses his crackling, precision-minded solos to show just how far it's possible to travel and still be rooted in the elemental music of the Crescent City.

Tom Moon

song clips

Whoopin' Blues
When The Saints Go Marching In
Wild Man Blues
After You've Gone
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans


Label: Verve
Year: 1996
Available Formats: Compact Disc

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