Nicholas Payton

Like the style of fellow New Orleans-bred trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Terrence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton's playing resonates with the Crescent City's triumphant sound regardless of stylistic idiom. During his Thursday night performance at Blues Alley, his crackling quintet combined Pentecostal fervor and gritty funk with bebop urbanity. And with encouragement from the jampacked house, Payton's riveting set reached sermonlike intensity.

Payton's rotund sound recalls Louis Armstrong's, especially when he animates his solos with growls, sneers and cackles. And while other greenhorns would run wild with such a technical arsenal at their disposal, Payton is savvy enough to build his solos with extreme logic and suspense while being superbly melodic. On a gleaming reading of Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight," Payton would sometimes stretch a phrase over a few bars, then have the audience sweating with anticipation as he haltingly began the next. He even managed to successfully employ such techniques in the Stylistics R&B classic "People Make the World Go Round."

Another highlight occurred when Payton's clarion trumpet was paired with the sensational tenor saxophone of Tim Warfield. Bassist Sean Conley and hard-hitting drummer Adonis Rose crafted a solid rhythmic bed. Pianist Anthony Wonsey bore his bluesy Chicago upbringing as he etched delightful solos and accompaniments that faintly recalled Herbie Hancock. Like Armstrong's glorious trumpet that helped jump-start jazz in the early years of this century, Payton will surely do the honors for the millennium.

--John Murph

Matt Wilson Quartet

In another time, drummer Matt Wilson would surely have had a job in the sound effects department for a radio drama. Instead he's stuck leading a crack jazz band and playing nightclubs, just as the Matt Wilson Quartet did Friday at One Step Down.

Playing in front of colorful, hand-drawn signs (half hippie, half kindergarten art class), the band members--including bassist Chris Lightcap, tenor and soprano saxophonist Joel Frahm, and alto sax and bass clarinetist Andrew D'Angelo--often kept their eyes shut in concentration during the opening set's six songs.

Wilson, who grips his sticks so lightly they look like they could fly out of his hands, broke out his special effects on the playful "Searchlight," sounding as if he were sawing wood in time to a Latin beat. The chestnut "Strangers in the Night" went from languid to frantic, and Wilson briefly played with forks grabbed from the bar.

"Lester," written by Wilson in honor of the legendary trumpeter Lester Bowie, who died last Monday, was a funereal, New Orleans-inflected tribute that, while sometimes tentative in performance, was beautiful in spirit.

"Nibble" closed the show as a tongue-in-cheek salute to the resurgence of swing, sounding like a '30s dance band stomper. As the song wound down, Wilson crinkled a plastic bag over the mike to imitate the staticky sound of a dirty record--or an old radio broadcast.

--Christopher Porter