Nicholas Payton Quintet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Nicholas Payton Quintet


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The modern jazz roster brims with accomplished trumpeters, largely because Wynton Marsalis--the influential progenitor of the 90s' blast to the past--happens to play that instrument. But the youngest player on the A-list, Nicholas Payton, could well eclipse them all. His first appearances begged comparisons to Louis Armstrong: he, too, hails from New Orleans, and he can effortlessly summon Armstrong's vulcanized tone and brash strut. He used them to great advantage on one of his two 1997 albums, the well-considered Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton (Verve), which paired the 23-year-old with a trumpet great seven decades his senior in an homage to Armstrong. But Payton's other recent collaboration couldn't have strayed much further from Armstrong's legacy, nor provided better proof of Payton's ability to inhabit different styles while maintaining a distinctive lyrical charm. That album, Fingerpainting (also on Verve), places him in a pianoless trio with guitar and bass--an intriguing setup in which to interpret compositions by keyboardist Herbie Hancock, many of which depended heavily on his own piano playing in their original conception. But Payton brings a breathy intimacy to the ballads, and when the music calls for speedy carousing, his solos start to resemble Fats Navarro's in both their combination of careful sculptedness and buoyant spontaneity and their cheery tone. With his own quintet, Payton has thus far managed to pull together the different worlds represented on these albums. His pianist, former Chicagoan Anthony Wonsey, balances Payton's relatively laconic (but wholly persuasive) improvisations with full voicings and busy solos. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, December 7, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. Payton also performs solo on Thursday at 12:15 PM in the Harold Washington Library Center's ninth-floor Winter Garden, 400 S. State; 312-747-4010. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Mames Minchin.

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