Because of their visual as well as aural resemblance, Nicholas Payton is constantly likened to an earlier New Orleans trumpeter, Louis Armstrong. Payton is one of the few jazz musicians of the past 40 years who could survive such comparisons, but he reveals another side of his personality on his new album, "Nick@Night." As the punning title implies, this is a disk for late-night romance, for intimate whispers rather than swaggering shouts, for Manhattan lounges rather than New Orleans joints. If it evokes comparisons to Miles Davis, well, Payton can survive those, too.
Like Davis, Payton is a master of phrasing. He knows when his trumpet or flugelhorn should whisper an endearment into a young woman's ear and when he should shut up and let the previous phrase sink in.
Just as importantly, he has taught his current quintet (saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Adonis Rose) the same tasteful restraint. This band has been together for three years now and plays with a cohesion that has a lot to do with making "Nick@Night" the triumph it is.
Except for a bonus-track version of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Sun Goddess," the tunes are all original. These compositions--especially Payton's leisurely swinging "Beyond the Stars," his song-like ballad "Faith" and Rose's moody "Prince of Night"--are rich in melodic material and inspire a lean lyricism from all five musicians. They sound "kind of blue."
Appearing Friday and Saturday at Blues Alley. To hear a free Sound Bite from Nicholas Payton, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8102. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)