Twin Cities Jazz Festival

Nicholas Payton wraps up Winter Jazz Fest in percussion-heavy style by

Original Article by Dan Emerson | Special to the Pioneer Press

Trumpeter and keyboardist Nicholas Payton, who headlined the Twin Cities Winter Jazz Festival on Sunday at the St. Paul Hotel, likes to perform in a variety of contexts. He’s led big bands, recorded two-trumpeter duets, collaborated with much older musicians playing jazz standards, and led an electronic fusion hip-hop/jazz band.

On Sunday, the New Orleans native led his Afro Caribbean Mixtape Band, a percussion-heavy quartet that generates some very sophisticated polyrhythms. It features fellow New Orleans native Joe Dyson — one of the most creative young drummers in jazz — and percussionist Daniel Sadownick, who plays congas and other Latin and Afro Caribbean percussion instruments.

Acoustic bassist Vicente Archer, who’s been a member of Payton’s various bands for the past 15 years, rounds out the Mixtape Band.

The group played several instrumental pieces from Payton’s new CD, “Afro Caribbean Mixtape,” which will be released next week. The new project is a musical triptych of sorts, tracing the migration of songs and rhythms from Africa, through Caribbean nations like Haiti, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and on to New Orleans — which has been called the northernmost Caribbean city.

While Payton began his career two decades ago as a trumpeter, he has evolved into a skilled keyboardist, a natural step, since most composers have a working knowledge of the piano. Last year, Payton took a DIY approach to his most recent album, “Textures,” playing all of the instruments himself.

Payton’s onstage gear Sunday included a vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano, along with a grand piano and a digital synthesizer he used sparingly to add tonal variety to the grooves. He often played trumpet with one hand, while using his left hand to comp chords on the Fender Rhodes, as he did on a Latin-tinged track from the new album he wrote to honor the great Cuban trumpeter Elpidio Chapotin Delgado.

The title track from the new “Mixtape” project followed, beginning as a brisk calypso and then cycling through several changes of tempos and time signatures. Payton did some forceful blowing, showing that his recent focus on keyboards hasn’t diminished his impressive command of the trumpet. The piece reached a crescendo with Dyson’s high-energy playing on cymbals and snare drum.

Then a solo intro on congas by Sadownick led into “Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word,” an instrumental and spoken-word composition based on a famous comment by the late, great drummer Max Roach.

Payton revisited his piece “L for Melvin Lastie,” written in honor of a fondly remembered New Orleans jazz and R&B trumpeter from the ’50s and ’60s. The tune, featured on Payton’s 2016 album “Letters,” features a jaunty, second-line style beat and buoyant trumpet and keyboard playing by Payton.

Payton and his mates also dipped into the classic bebop canon with a percussion-heavy arrangement of “Stablemates,” a 1950s composition by the great alto saxophonist Benny Golson. The band’s rhythmic firepower greatly enhanced the bebop chestnut.

Payton also did some singing on “Othello,” an original ballad he wrote for the new album. He did some very melodic soloing on the grand piano, and then picked up his trumpet to blow over a driving, swing groove.

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