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Nicholas Payton: A Different Kind of Blue

As a producer, I sometimes have to think like a jazz musician. Not in every way, thank heaven. However, I'm always looking for unique moments, times and places when musicians are creating at a high level, and try to bring those moments to anyone who will listen. The challenge is that jazz is such an elusive art to capture. It's the musicians themselves who make the music resonate, while recordings simply catch the ephemera.

WBGO recorded this session six months before Nicholas Payton released Into the Blue. At that time, the band had recently finished the original session in New Orleans, then spent a week playing its music for a New York audience. This was the moment to get them. The iron was hot.

Payton's last major recording, Sonic Trance, sounded like an artist unmoored, set adrift in search of a sound. Into the Blue shows a creative musician who knows himself, working with band mates who truly understand each other. That combination makes for a fun ride. The music's underlying rhythms are another key to its friendly vibe. Check out "The Charleston Hop," a combination of the famous dance beat with the harmony of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Or listen to "Triptych," the funky Latin trip on a three-part groove. This music is actually danceable, a rare treat for jazz that sounds like now.

I love interviewing musicians about creativity and self-discovery. I've known Payton for years, and he has never been the most effusive talker. Still, he has plenty to say. Payton has a keen perspective on the mind of an improviser, and he lays it all out in this session. He even sings, on the slow-jam "Blue" and over the second-line bounce of "I Want to Stay in New Orleans."

When Payton speaks with the voice or the horn, I'm all ears.

Originally recorded Oct. 2007.

Listen to the previous Favorite Session, or see our full archive.

Copyright 2008 WBGO

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.