Album Review: Nicholas Payton’s Bitches

nicholas paytonHere’s one out of left field. Despite his occasional flirtations with fusion, Nicholas Payton has hitherto been known as somewhat of a traditionalist, one of New Orleans’ best young straight-ahead trumpet players of the last 20 years or so. But now he’s produced the uncompromising Bitches, essentially a one-man-band concept album with special guest vocalists including Cassandra Wilson and Esperanza Spalding. The rather un-PC title may or may not allude to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, but the two albums definitely share a willingness to explore the outer limits of jazz, taking in contemporary soul and R’n’B influences. And as Payton points out in his liner notes, his generation were brought up checking out Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder just as much as straight jazz.

The album is a gloriously messy soundclash of Wonderish Moog bass, airy ‘70s Fender Rhodes, neo-soul chord changes and lo-fi, non-repetitive drum machine grooves, aided by some zingy post-electro production by Mark de Clive-Lowe and Payton’s delicious muted trumpet and pretty decent vocal chops.

‘Freesia’ is a revelation with its lopsided hip-hop beats, sumptuous chord changes and beatific Spalding vocals. The tantalising blues groove of ‘Togetherness Foreverness’ is so behind the beat it nearly falls over completely while ‘Indigo’ employs some of the textures Herbie Hancock used on his classic mid-‘70s albums like Secrets and Manchild.

Payton’s vocals sound a bit overstretched on ballads ‘You Are The Spark’ and ‘Shades of Hue’ but he regroups for the irrestitible ‘Second Show’ and ‘Love and Faith’. His bluesy piano chops on the retro soul jam ‘Give Light, Live Life, Love’ are pretty astonishing and the nicely-titled and very catchy ‘iStole Your iPhone’ may even give Payton a quirky hit single.

Bitches could prove a crossover smash to rival Roy Hargrove’s Hard Groove a few years ago. Fans of D’Angelo, Spacek, Shuggie Otis or Eric Roberson should definitely check it out.

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