For most of his career, trumpeter Nicholas Payton has played things relatively close to the vest, walking so softly over the traditions of his New Orleans hometown that he left little in the way of his own footprints. On the first night of his current Big Apple stand, however, Payton unveiled a new approach, a radical departure that skips multiple decades in skittering into the modern — or even postmodern — era.
The bulk of the sextet’s 75-minute set was culled from Payton’s just-released Warner Bros. album, “Sonic Trance” — a disc that grafts a hip-hop veneer onto a bed of Miles Davis-styled fusion. The former element wasn’t as evident in concert, given the absence of samplers and sequencers, but the musicians picked up the slack by pushing their collective energy level into the red zone.
That was particularly evident in a blazing, playful take on “Two Mexicans on the Wall,” a suite that finds Payton traipsing along in agave-soaked bliss, his tone alternately sunny and outright loopy — a mood echoed by keyboardist Scott Kinsey, who cleaved the mariachi mixture with a bit of calliope madness.
A long, winding version of “Fela,” sewn into one song from its two-part album version, provided the set’s warm center, drawing an incandescence from the alternating solos laid down by Payton and soprano saxophonist Tim Warfield. The tune also gave Daniel Sadownick plenty of room to maneuver on a variety of handheld percussion.
The perf’s cross-cultural blurring was impressive enough on a purely intellectual level, but Payton really scored points by deftly transposing the whimsical tone of vintage Louis Armstrong — the subject of an exhaustive homage on the trumpeter’s “Dear Louis” album — to the sleek 21st century setting of these arrangements.