Nicholas Payton, Bitches (mixtape)

Those of you expecting Nicholas Payton’s new record to sound like his great records Dear Louis or Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton will be very surprised. Bitches takes the sound of his 1970s Miles Davis-esque sleeper record Sonic Trance and pushes it into modern rhythm and blues. With the exception of guest vocals by Esperanza Spalding, N’dambi, and Saunders Sermons, Payton plays all the instruments and sings. His voice has a sensual and sensitive feel, more a bedroom caress than an overpowering shout. The instrumentation focuses on drum machine, bass, keyboards and trumpet, all processed to make them sound artificial to different degrees. The songs switch between the minimal funk of “Truth or Dare,” mellow candlelight jazz of “You Are the Spark,” and ballads such as the duet with Cassandra Wilson, “You Take Me Places I’ve Never Been Before.”

Overall the record has the vibe of the first few Prince records, where Prince is playing most of the instruments and showing off his musical and songwriting prowess. Like the Prince records, the display of chops doesn’t detract from the feeling behind the songs. There is also a 1980s sound to the arrangements, especially in new wave beats, chimes and the synthesizer of “The Second Show (Adam’s Plea).” Between those two themes, the music recalls the last years of Miles Davis before he passed away in 1991. Davis at that point had generally given up on jazz and was trying to make his version of current R&B and instrumental music. He also had done some sessions with Prince that are only available on bootlegs, and in ways Bitches recalls those Prince sessions and Davis’ Tutu.

Given that Sonic Trance let Payton follow his Miles muse through the 1970s, Bitches shows the Miles influence in the 1980s and ‘90s. This record is very different from Payton’s better- known jazz work, but it gets better with every listen. The only thing to take issue with is the title. This is not a Death Row Records release in the early 1990s and Payton is not Snoop Dogg. Yes, Miles Davis called his 1969 opus Bitches Brew, but calling an album Bitches Brew then was shocking and radical, as was the music that album contained. Calling something Bitches in 2011—particularly an album with romantic separation as its subject matter—is clichéd and gratuitous, and the music in this record is not clichéd nor gratuitous in the least. Calling the record Bitches sounds less like a statement and more like a complaint.

  • It is a complaint. I’m bitchin’ all throughout the record! *laughing* -NIcholas Payton