Nicholas Payton: Smoke Sessions [Remixed] 

Remix set straddles several genres while bringing giants born in the 1930s - Ron Carter and George Coleman - into the 2020s


Smoke is a friendly club on Manhattan’s upper Upper West Side, where Nicholas Payton recorded his 2019 live album. The follow-up Smoke Sessions was taped at a midtown studio but shares the club’s laidback feel. This remix set again shows Payton to be a triple threat as trumpeter, keyboardist and composer, while spotlighting drummer Karriem Riggins, who handles most of the remixes.

The shortest of these tracks – and the only one not by Riggins – is a re-do of Hangin’ In And Jivin’ by Tomoki Sanders, a tenor saxophonist like his father Pharoah. The original has an easygoing blues groove. Payton’s piano work features Professor Longhair-style rumba trills, echoing his collaborations with fellow New Orleans pianists and Longhair acolytes Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.

The solos on Hangin’ are as unhurried and congenial as a conversation among buddies at a café. Payton’s trumpet storytelling includes upper-range squeaks that could be joke punchlines. Sanders chops the length in half while upping the energy and urgency – and cranks up the bass and drums. He splices bits of trumpet as Us3 did on Cantaloop. That hit prominently featured Carter’s bass from a Herbie Hancock track, placing this one in a timeline that stretches from 1964 through 1994.

Big George features tenor legend and long-time Hancock/Carter collaborator George Coleman, still masterful and fluid at 87. Thanks to his gravitas, this medium-groove ballad is the weightiest on the original album. Payton’s piano solo is subdued, slyly quoting Burt Bacharach’s Wives And Lovers.  The remix is shorter and funkier with Carter’s bass up front, proving that he too – just two years Coleman’s junior – is still agile and sounds strong in a contemporary electronic setting. Riggins’ drumming gets an extra kick too, while Coleman’s more profound contribution is downplayed.

Levin’s Lope is the weakest link in the chain. The original is pleasing enough with its loping bossa rhythm and Payton charmingly playing Rhodes electric piano and trumpet at the same time. Unfortunately the remix speeds it up, adds vague vocals and a cheesy drum-machine that brings to mind the lamest 90s acid jazz.

Fast forward to Gold Dust Black Magic, which also gets a radical, but mightier reworking. Riggins adds dubby drums plus bluesy guitar from Isaiah Sharkey. His tasty additions and the floating drum work make this the freshest, most appealing of the remixes. It reflects Riggins’ strong credentials across the jazz and hip-hop worlds. This remix set, too, straddles several genres while bringing giants born in the 1930s impressively into the 2020s. 

Levin’s Lope (Karriem Riggins Remix); Big George (Karriem Riggins Remix); Gold Dust Black Magic (Karriem Riggins Remix); Hangin’ In And Jivin’ (Tomoki Sanders Remix) (20.25)
Payton (t, p, elp); Ron Carter (b); Karriem Riggins (d, elec) with George Coleman (ts) on 2, Isaiah Sharkey (g) on 3. New York, April 2021.
Smoke Sessions SSR-2108