When legendary trumpeter Miles Davis released Sketches of Spain in 1960, it created much controversy with complaints that it was neither jazz nor classical music. The work, which was arranged and conducted by Davis’ longtime collaborator, composer Gil Evans, nonetheless became an extremely well-selling album. It proved that Davis’ always-innovative vision, in this case the fusing of genres, could find success and was years ahead of its time.
Fifty-three years later, trumpeter Nicholas Payton bestows his own genius, personal vision and modern sensibilities to the entirety of the music from the historic album. The trumpeter stood at center stage amidst 19 select members of Switzerland’s highly regarded ensemble, Sinfonieorchester Basel. He was also joined by his longtime rhythm section in bassist Vincente Archer, drummer Marcus Gilmore and percussionist Daniel Sadownick for this live recording of what could be considered the second coming of Davis’ masterpiece, Sketches of Spain.
It might be tempting and perhaps somewhat irresistible to go back to the original to see how Payton’s interpretation and style differ from that of Davis, who Payton calls, “his favorite musician, period.” The sheer beauty of Payton’s trumpet is immediately experienced as he blows and slurs with earthy emotion on Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The performance makes any actual comparison between the two recordings seem moot. Great is great.
Davis was also criticized by some of his detractors for not playing enough horn on Sketches of Spain. It’s a complaint that Payton has heard since utilizing keyboards along with his trumpet for many of his recent performances and recordings. That is definitely not a problem here because, as we are informed, Payton’s trumpet is heard on 90 percent of the 40-minute suite.
The suite offers a broad palate on which Payton displays his astonishing versatility and tonal range. Evans’ “Saeta,” one of three cuts by the great composer, starts with a familiar military-style drumming before Payton takes it out with some wild, free blowing. Mayhem moves to a caress on the finale of the opus, with the trumpeter employing the absolute full spectrum of his horn.
Nicholas Payton’s Sketches of Spain stands on its own as a brilliant piece of work. It’s fun to imagine if it making Miles smile.