Vinyl Review: Nicholas Payton - Bitches



Nicholas Payton - Bitches
(IN+OUT Records IOR 77111-1. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


The first thing that strikes you about Nicholas Payton’s new album Bitches may be the somewhat politically incorrect title – it’s certainly one that you might hesitate to put into the subject line of an email, in case some puritanical profanity filter fries your message as spam.

But the first thing that struck this reviewer was the strikingly beautiful Gustav Klimt style cover painting by Thomas Blackshear. And the second thing was that some clever, tasteful soul has opted to release the album not only on digital formats but also on vinyl.

Nicholas Payton is primarily a trumpeter and he hails from New Orleans — his father was the bassist Walter Payton, a stalwart of the Crescent City music scene (he played on Lee Dorsey’s ‘Working in the Coal Mine’). Nicholas Payton himself follows in an illustrious tradition of New Orleans trumpeters, from Louis Armstrong (or Buddy Bolden, if you prefer) to Wynton Marsalis.

It was hearing Miles Davis as a child that set Payton on his path. Turning professional he played with Doc Cheatham (a Grammy winning collaboration), Marcus Roberts, Joshua Redman and Joe Henderson among many others. He also featured on the soundtrack of Robert Altman’s film Kansas City.

But Payton is much more than just a horn player, as he decisively demonstrates on Bitches. He is also a composer, bandleader and an impressive keyboard player.

And now he’s added vocalist to his list of achievements.

Bitches is a startling departure for Nicholas Payton as an artist. He wrote the music for the entire album and it features lyrics on every track, written and sung by the composer. In fact, he plays every instrument on the album and does all the singing, with the addition of some illustrious guest stars — N’dambi, Saunders Sermons, Chinah Blac, Esperanza Spalding and Cassandra Wilson all contribute vocals.

But essentially Bitches is a one man show, and it’s a tour de force by Payton.

It’s also a subtle kind of concept album. Appearing at first to be a suite of songs about love in general, it actually charts the arc of one affair and its fallout in one man’s life, from infatuation and bliss to temptation and obsessive jealousy (one track is entitled ‘iStole Your iPhone’), ending in acceptance and amused resignation.

Throughout this intensely personal extended journey, Nicholas Payton’s virtuosity as a multi instrumentalist is constantly in evidence. The most pure jazz element is in the purity and beauty of his trumpet playing — particularly on ‘You Are the Spark’.

How Bitches will sit with you depends on your view of vocal albums. Personally I went from apprehension that it wasn’t an all-instrumental album of Payton’s usual neo-bop to an appreciation of its virtues. It reminds me chiefly of prime late period Quincy Jones — Body Heat, say — and even Prince.

Frank Kleinschmidt and his adventurous German independent jazz label, In And Out (‘In the groove and out of the ordinary’) are to be congratulated for supporting such an ambitious project, and in particular for releasing it on vinyl.

The double LP release, on 180 gram vinyl and pressed in Germany (invariably a good thing) is a thing of beauty and a delight to the ears. Compared to the CD, the trumpet playing seems to lift right out of the mix and the bass is superbly tighter and sweeter. The pressing is sonically immaculate, except for ‘Togetherness Forever’ which deliberately samples some scratchy old vinyl at the beginning, and ‘Flip the Script’ which features some of the same at the end.

There are only 999 individually numbered copies of this vinyl release available worldwide, so if you like the sound of this album you should get your skates on and find a copy.

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