What does it mean to work with a high level of musicality?
Three cutting-edge musicians with new albums out — veteran artists Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, and rising star Gerald Clayton —certainly know the answer to that question. And for their enduring creative efforts, their passionate music is wooing the world.
Trumpeter Payton, bassist McBride, and pianist Clayton, all composers and bandleaders in their own rights, as well as Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated artists, also continue to capture the attention of critics the world over with some of the most accessible new music that I’ve heard this year, so far.
They may not be appearing on bandstands with their own bands at our local jazz clubs in support of their albums anytime soon, but at least two of them are no strangers to the Jazz Showcase bandstand in Chicago. At present, not only are the musicians leading their own bands, they are also performing regularly as sidemen or special guests in other bands.
Multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Payton continues to evolve in a variety of creative directions. His new release is Nicholas Payton XXX: #BAM: Live at the Bohemian Caverns (BMF Records). Having spent years on major labels, Payton has bypassed the traditional label system in favor of launching his own imprint, BMF Records.
The excellent new album features seasoned musicians bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Lenny White, and was recorded at the historic Washington D.C. club, Bohemian Caverns, on November 3, 2012. Payton, ever the complete musician (he plays bass, drums, tuba, trombone, clarinet and saxophone), simultaneously plays trumpet and Fender Rhodes piano on the new album. With songs such as “Drag Dog,” “Pannonica,” “The Return of the African Tinge,” and “Frankie and Johnny” featured on the album, he masterfully transcends musical genres drawing as much upon jazz, blues, and classic soul. The album sounds like you’re listening to an actual set, both in terms of length and the vibe of sitting at a club where the music flows from one song into the next, flawlessly.
The New Orleans native is the founder of the growing Black American Music awareness movement (#BAM). The #BAM movement was born as a result of his blog posting “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore” and then additional posts published on his blog (http://nicholaspayton.wordpress.com) in November 27, 2011.
Black American Music, coined by Payton, describes his music and all music descending from the Black American experience, which includes blues, soul, gospel, spirituals, and R&B. His attitude is this: Black American Music was created by Black people, but it belongs to everyone. Currently, he’s sparking a sort of revolutionary spirit in the hearts and minds of music lovers.
The Nicholas Payton XXX band appears at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago on June 20-23. For more information, visit www.nicholaspayton.com or www.jazzshowcase.com.
Pianist Gerald Clayton, who just appeared with his trio at the Jazz Showcase on May 23-26, has also recorded with Next Collective, among other exciting groups. He also recently shared the stage with the legendary Charles Lloyd at the Dakota here in Minneapolis.
His debut recording with Concord Jazz, Life Forum, includes bassist Joe Sanders, drummer Justin Brown, saxophonists Logan Richardson and Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Sachal Vasandani, along with poet Carl Hancock Rux, round out the ensemble.
Some of the best tracks on the album include “Some Always,” with Akinmusire sounding powerful on trumpet, “Like Water,” for the intriguing sax playing, and “When an Angel Sheds a Feather,” for a strong vocal duet by Parlato and Vasandani.
His pure originality in terms of playing and writing music indicates why Clayton is a standout among his peers. His sound is definitely his own.
Clayton has indeed successfully expanded the trio context to a larger ensemble, in other words, a spirited forum that sounds inspired as much by each musician as by the creative material they are presenting in grand fashion.
Bassist Christian McBride is one of the hardest working musicians around. His new release is People Music (Mack Avenue). This is the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet, Inside Straight.
The new album features saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen, along with guests pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. (a slightly different incarnation of Inside Straight). The music is as dynamic as this stellar combination of world-class musicians who rarely get to play together, let alone record an album.
For the album, McBride contributes a majority of the music for the album, but also features pieces written by the other band members, all of whom are accomplished composers. Wilson contributes the ballad “Ms. Angelou” that draws inspiration from the poet Maya Angelou’s words and rhythms. “Gang Gang” and “New Hope’s Angel” are standout tracks for the ultra-soulful interplay of vibes, piano, sax, and drums combination. McBride stretches his composing muscles further on “The Movement Revisited,” which is adapted from his large-scale suite for choir and jazz ensemble dedicated to Civil Rights Movement icons Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“People Music is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title. “Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go… When you pull the people in, you can go anywhere as long as they feel like they’re a part of the ride.”
Robin James welcomes reader responses to jameson firstname.lastname@example.org.