NICHOLAS PAYTON PRESENTS ‘SKETCHES OF SPAIN’ WITH THE SINFONIEORCHESTER BASEL ON BMF Records™
On September 24th, for his 40th birthday week, Grammy-winning trumpeter Nicholas Payton offers the world a present worthy of his immense skills: a live concert performance of the iconic Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration, Sketches of Spain via his BMF Records imprint. Framing Payton’s virtuosic playing is a 19-piece ensemble comprised of 15 brass and woodwinds and a harpist drawn from the Sinfonieorchester Basel with conductor Dennis Russell Davies, and Payton’s long-time collaborators Vicente Archer on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and Daniel Sadownick on percussion.
Sketches of Spain is Payton’s second release on BMF, which launched in February 2013 with #BAM Live at Bohemian Caverns, on which Archer and drummer Lenny White joined Payton playing trumpet and Fender Rhodes piano simultaneously. Here Payton focuses exclusively on the trumpet, which he places to his lips for around 90% of the 40-minute suite. In the process, he reaffirms his stature as a peerless master of his primary instrument. He rises to and transcends not only the physical challenge of functioning throughout the marathon at consistent levels of execution and creativity, but also the conceptual challenge of addressing and refracting into his own argot Davis’ indelible declamations from one of the second-largest selling recordings of all time.
“At this point, Miles is my favorite musician, period,” Payton says. “I understand his music so intimately that for me it’s not even about a style, but conjuring a spirit that at any moment I can call upon to walk through me. I’ve dealt with the idea of being influenced by this person but I feel I’m in a space where my voice has developed so much that I don’t feel haunted by Miles’ ghost. I can be free to create and use whatever part of his spirit when it’s necessary, and other times magnify certain things that are not necessarily directly related to Miles.
“We’re now 54 years from that piece, and music has evolved. That gives me a frame of reference that allows me to do things Miles didn’t think about doing, because it was a new work then. So I didn’t necessarily feel bound by the blueprint. Whatever Sketches of Spain meant to Miles then, I want to be able to take that just as far as my imagination will allow.”
As an example, consider Payton’s sublime interpretation of the melody on the suite-opening “Concierto De Aranjuez,” composed by Joaquín Rodrigo, or his brisk improvisation on “The Pan Piper,” movement three, which Evans fleshed out from a Peruvian Indian folk theme. Then there’s his use of multiphonics on “Saeta,” the fourth movement, on which Davis, depicting a lone woman’s emotional singing of the Passion of Christ, produced one of the singular performances of his career. On the quasi-flamenco final section, “Solea,” Payton produces a masterpiece 12-minute solo, revealing old-master control of dynamics and compression-release strategies as he sustains momentum, “It’s like a snowball collecting to the point where you reach the other side of the peak of the mountain... It’s like an avalanche.”
Spurring Payton’s imagination are the orchestra’s well-wrought tempi and tone colors and the state-of-the-art rhythmic impetus provided by Gilmore, Sadownick and Archer. “As opposed to [earlier Davis-Evans classics] Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess, swinging rhythms are not employed in this piece,” Payton says. “So the orchestral musicians who are not versed in playing from a Black American rhythmic perspective can just play—for lack of a better word—music.”
“Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb [the bassist and drummer on the original Sketches of Spain] are part of the fabric of our musical DNA—and what we like to listen to, period. But although we’re deferential to the arrangement, I didn’t want us to be too deferential to the style. What’s going to set this apart from Miles is for my band to play like they play. The music has changed and evolved. The best way for us to pay respect is to pretend we’re getting this piece for the first time, and interpret in the way and with the language we’ve created within ourselves, the same as Miles’ band did within their bag.”
To address each piece according to its own strengths and inherent characteristics from a here-and-now perspective is an approach not dissimilar to Payton’s procedures on his classic GRAMMY® award-winning 1997 collaboration with legendary trumpeter, and one of Payton’s musical grandfathers, Doc Cheatham, entitled Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton, or on Dear Louis and Gumbo Nouveau, on which Payton channeled and updated the spirit of traditional and vernacular New Orleans music with such palpable flair, individuality and freshness that, by his mid-twenties, connoisseurs considered him a major figure on the trumpet timeline.
“The idea of taking the best of the past and bringing it into today’s context has been a thread throughout everything I’ve done,” Payton says. “As a kid playing in brass bands, or in my teens when I played Louis Armstrong and “King” Oliver material with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center, I always saw myself as doing something more modern. I always fought heavily against being categorized.”
This is one reason why Payton finds it so liberating to document his musical production on BMF, on which he will release his recently composed Black American Symphony—also performed by the Sinfonieorchester Basel.
“Instead of looking for an opportunity that’s suited for me, I can create the opportunity the way I want from start to finish,” he says. “I don’t have to develop a sales pitch when I want to do a project. I can do whatever I want, and do it the way I want. I can see where my money is being spent, how it’s coming back, exactly how many I’m selling. To me, it is the business manifestation of everything that I talk about in terms of Black American Music. Now I have a physical home for the ideas that I espouse conceptually. It seems right that I would have a company at this time to further the other things that I talk about. This is the physical manifestation of taking control of my music, putting it out and branding myself, as opposed to other people branding me.”