Inspired by a post of the original handwritten chart to my composition “Back to the Source,” and the convo that ensued on Instagram, I went to look for a DAT tape of my band at the Village Vanguard in 1997. As a band, we did a lot of gigs over the 5 years we were together and I still remember this one quite vividly. Not just because a recording of it exists, but there was a magical vibe in the room that night. Rarely do these nights make it to tape. They are usually rhapsodized about via word of mouth.
Well, here it is:
There were lots of kats in the house this evening. A couple of them had just moved to NYC from Houston for college: Mike Moreno and Robert Glasper. I didn’t know them then, but they would both play in various bands of mine in the years to come. Their friend, and fellow trumpeter, Carlos Abadie was with them. The late great James Williams was in the house, and was sure to school us on what he heard as a wrong chord on the ballad I chose to close the set with, “I’m Old Fashioned.”
The full set list is as follows (all compositions by me unless noted):
Back to the Source
Paraphernalia (Wayne Shorter)
The Last Goodbye
United (Wayne Shorter)
I’m Old Fashioned (Kern & Mercer)
Most of the tunes on this set would appear on our then upcoming album, Payton’s Place. “Back to the Source” is an uptempo burnout song in the tradition of Freddie Hubbard’s “The Intrepid Fox” or Branford Marsalis’ “Spartacus.” For the uninitiated, “burnout” is a way of playing that was invented primarily by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. It’s often modal with few chords, but not necessarily. It has more to do with the rhythmic and harmonic abandon one plays with and it’s typically high energy, but can also be sultry and seductive. Rhythmic interplay is really the hallmark. “Back to the Source” is more structured burnout. “Paraphernalia” was pretty much vamp-based with the cue system for Miles’ studio version. We play it completely free after the melody while still employing the cue system as a jump off point.
“Concentric Circles” is one of my most influential compositions to date. It’s commonplace now, but no one was doing this when we recorded it 20 years ago. It’s burnout, but it uses what I call fixed broken time in the second half of the form. The syncopated swagger of those pivots provide an underpinning that’s conducive to some real Negroidery.
“The Last Goodbye” was written for our then recently departed brother and fellow musician, Charles “Dia” Taylor, affectionately known to some as “Alto.” He and I were friends long before we knew each other as musicians.
Years before, Steve Turre laid a bootleg on me of Woody Shaw playing “United,” amongst other tunes, at the Vanguard in 1981. When I saw he was in the house, I thought it would be fitting for us to jam on it.
A couple of things to note here: The sound system went out during our first night of the week on Tuesday. It felt so good, we decided to play the rest of the week with no microphones. What you hear on this recording is the pure acoustic sound of the room. We also did two albums during that week, Adonis’ debut album, Song for Donise, and I recorded with Tim for his Gentle Warrior album.
The Nicholas Payton Quintet is:
Nicholas Payton: trumpet
Tim Warfield: tenor sax
Anthony Wonsey: piano
Reuben Rogers: bass
Adonis Rose: drums
There that is. Enjoy!
—Nicholas Payton aka The King of Research