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Nicholas Payton | “Relaxin’ with Nick” on Smoke Sessions Records

Acclaimed Trumpeter, Keyboardist & Composer
Nicholas Payton Takes to the Stage of
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club for a Scintillating
Live Date with the Renowned Rhythm Section
Peter Washington and Kenny Washington

Live Double Disc Set, Relaxin’ with Nick,
Available October 25 via Smoke Sessions Records

Nicholas Payton has evolved a singular approach to live performance, wedding his breathtaking voice on the trumpet to his own accompaniment on piano and Fender Rhodes. On Relaxin’ With Nick, Payton is joined by the renowned rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington – no relation, though their incredible chemistry highlights a bond as tight as family – for a stellar live set captured at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club.
Due out October 25 on Smoke Sessions RecordsRelaxin’ With Nick brings the experience of witnessing Payton’s unparalleled live performances directly to the listener. The double album consists of Payton’s original compositions and a few well-chosen standards, all highlighting the virtuosic musicianship and thrilling camaraderie discovered together on the club’s intimate stage in front of an enraptured audience.
Inspired by classic live albums such as Ahmad Jamal’s At the Pershing: But Not for Me, Payton was intent on highlighting both the vibe of the live club and the fresh sound of the band.
“The particular way that Smoke is situated makes for even greater intimacy than your average club,” Payton says. “You can feel the atmosphere, you can feel the quiet. I like hearing the glasses clinking, the murmur of conversation and the excitement of finger-tapping. All of those elements lend themselves to the creative spirit and help set a mood.”
In this intimate atmosphere, the trio feeds off the energy in the room and sparks a truly special, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Though the set of concerts recorded for Relaxin’ With Nick is this trio’s first time together, Payton has worked with both of the Washingtons before. The bassist and drummer share extensive experience together, most notably as members of the longstanding Bill Charlap Trio.
“At this point, their level of instantaneous dialogue is so intuitive that you have a ready-made camaraderie there,” Payton says. “The vibe they’re able to generate on a consistent basis just feels so good. Once you connect with them it’s a beautiful thing, which is why they’re so sought after. Both of them have very strong and deep roots as well as a sensibility for whatever is current. Having this strong grounding in the foundation and fundamentals but also a willingness to be daring and to take risks are equally important criteria to me.”
The rhythm section is particularly important to Payton’s incredible feat of simultaneously accompanying himself on trumpet and keys. More than just a crowd-pleasing feat of skill, this multi-instrumentalism is crucial to Payton’s deeply personal conception of his music.
“As my music has become more personal, the idea of just taking a trumpet solo and then standing on the side of the stage seemed a bit stale and outdated to me,” he explains. “Playing keys and accompanying myself allows me to be a part of the music in a more tangible way. It frees me up to play the music as I hear it and puts me at the vanguard of creating a new technique in territory that is largely uncharted. It gives me a different edge.”
That edge manifests in a wide variety of styles and moods throughout Relaxin’ With Nick, from the gentle, buoyant swing of the title track to the slinky, blissed-out soul groove of a tune like “Eight” or the bristling surge of “F.” Payton culls several tunes from his albums Letters and Numbers, with “C” performed as an elegant piano trio ballad, “A” at a joyous trot and a thunderous turn on the piano before parrying his own trumpet solo on Rhodes. “Five” finds him alternating between the three instruments in a particularly tour de force outing propelled by the Washingtons’ muscular rhythms.
“El Guajiro” debuted on Payton’s genre-defying 2017 album Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. The tune is forged around a sample of the voice of master Cuban trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal, here launching the trio into a brisk, infectious cha-cha-cha. “Jazz Is a Four-Letter Word” is similarly built on the foundation of a vocal sample, here using a monologue by the iconic drummer Max Roach to opine on one of the trumpeter’s favorite subjects over a rock-solid beat. “1983” dips into a laid-back soul bag, pairing singing trumpet lines with shimmering keyboard textures, while “Othello” spotlights Payton’s crooning skills, embedded in Kenny’s whispering brushwork and Peter’s eloquent bass oratory.
Payton opens Benny Golson’s classic “Stablemates” with a cosmically adventurous keyboard solo, ushering in the trio’s clamorous reimagining of the oft-recorded tune. Taken at a brisk tempo, “Tea for Two” feels anything but quaint as Payton’s trumpet rides the rollicking waves of the Washingtons’ urgent swing. “I Hear a Rhapsody” is passed through a prismatic deconstruction. Payton takes to the microphone again for a heartfelt “When I Fall In Love” before closing the set with a brief take on his own “Praalude” from 2003’s Sonic Trance.
Relaxin’ With Nick is just that: an opportunity to get comfortable with a genial host entertaining an intimate audience. “I feel honored that people choose to spend their evening with us with all the options people have these days,” he concludes. “There’s no greater compliment to me than people being able to hook up or party or converse in whatever fashion necessary. I’m happy to have my music be a part of fun and romance and the life force. To me, this is the point.”
Nicholas Payton · Relaxin’ with Nick
Smoke Sessions Records · Release Date: October 25, 2019
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