One of the more popular trumpeters to emerge post-Wynton from New Orleans, Nicholas Payton has developed an omnivorous approach to jazz, willing to bring countless genres to the table. To demonstrate his chops in a historical setting, he proffered a blazing rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser”; to give himself a chance to sing, he went with Joe Jackson’s mid-’80s hit “Steppin’ Out”; and for a pensive ballad, he opted for “The Theme from ‘Chinatown.” Diversity like that in jazz is a rare commodity.
In between those selections, Payton paid tribute to his father with one of two hardcore funk pieces and, to close the evening, paid tribute to the second line bands of his hometown with his composition “I Want to stay right here in New Orleans.” His solos retained connections to the heart of the compositions. In the opener “Let It Ride,” Payton took two impressive solos, one polite, one aggressive, a microcosm of his chameleon nature and his comfort level with various ways of playing.
Payton is no fusionist. Instead he is attracted to and composes multi-faceted songs that provide dips and turns, broad tonal ranges and opportunities to reshape a song in mid-performance. “Straight No Chaser” was fine example, performed with pianist Kevin Hays and Payton alternating atop a ferocious pace set by the two drummers and bassist Vicente Archer. It had all the right elements — swing, cohesion, technical mastery — to enhance the tune’s timelessness yet remind the full-house how relevant Monk’s compositions remain 60 years on.