Nicholas Payton swings, hard bops, bebops, sings, gets sentimental, takes it out and adds a bit of electronics on this double album, Relaxin’ with Nick, recorded live at New York’s intimate Smoke Jazz & Supper Club. Playing trumpet, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes and adding vocals and samplings, Payton is teamed with the dynamite and compatible rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (not related) all of whom have performed together, though not in this configuration.
Many folks who have yearned to hear Payton play and blow straight-up jazz get their wish on the opening, title cut, “Relaxin’ with Nick.” He shows himself as a now-accomplished pianist on an original tune that reflects its name. It’s a straight-up swinging number performed by an acoustic jazz trio until another instrumentalist, the brilliant trumpeter Payton, steps in to make it a quartet minus the acoustic keys and complete with the Rhodes.
That mood continues on “C,” a tune from Payton’s Letters album that spotlights the big warm tone of Peter Washington’s bass on this magnificently captured recording. Amusingly, Payton’s great jazz knowledge of all that came before continually enters the picture as heard on “C,” when he refer-ences Cole Porter’s classic “Night and Day” and also when he ends numbers with a traditional jazz flair as he does on the chestnut “Tea for Two.”
Payton’s “El Guajiro” offers a change of pace and includes a sampling of Cuban trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Maribel’s voice from a song off Payton’s fine release Afro-Cuban Mixtape. The Rhodes plays a big part on this selection before the leader’s trumpet burns over the raging drums of Kenny Washington.
A highlight of the recording is Payton’s “Jazz Is a Four-Letter Word,” that was inspired by and includes the sampled voice and scat-like offerings of the great drummer Max Roach. It then takes off in a beboppin’, toe-tapping acoustic piano, bass and drum setting that’s punctuated by Payton’s true to tone and high-flying trumpet. The crowd—that plays an important part in the ambiance of the album—definitely digs it and repeats Payton’s vocal chant: “Jazz is a four-letter word.”
More romantic moments occur on Payton’s lovely “Othello” which displays his ever-greater talent and emotional delivery on acoustic piano as well as the depth and heights of his trumpet prowess. He sings on this cut as well as on the ballad, “When I Fall in Love” on which his breathy vocals enhance the sincerity of lyrics.
In contrast, Payton and Peter and Kenny Washington move the music forward in less melodic yet nonetheless dramatic fashion on “F,” another of the trumpeter/keyboardist’s tunes from his Letters album. Everybody’s up for and in on this creative game. It’s a watch out, here we come moment.
Relaxin’ with Nick is just what the title promises as Nicholas Payton, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington invite listeners to their world where improvised music moves pleasurably and vigorously through the ages devoid of barriers.