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Nicholas Payton: In Conversation

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In some ways, Nicholas Payton's new Warner release, Sonic Trance, was inevitable: he says he was headed this way for quite some time. However, this record represents something of a highlight for the native of New Orleans ' a reach that grasps new uses of technology for aesthetic effect.

From the moment we first hear, 'Sonic trance, sonic trance'' echo through our headsets, we know we're in for something new made from something old. In Payton's case, sounds are produced in a group context using an entire age of special effects that we thought were dead and gone. They are unleashed and indulged as a child pillages a play store. The title of the record ends up being its own effect.

Nicholas Payton's sixth record is, he says, a new turn in a young career. Sonic Trance has the ambition of retaining tradition's achievements while using them to reach a newly distinguished fusion of jazz genre. It's a very lofty goal and the resulting 68 minutes of music will leave the listener grasping for aural reference points. It is slightly discomforting, but very fresh.

Nicholas Payton took some time out to speak with me from his home in Louisiana. We're in conversation.

Gregory J. Robb (AAJ-Vancouver): You stated that Sonic Trance really was about finding yourself and the child within and, in certain ways, that came across in some of the more humorous moments in the record. What did you find out about yourself as an artist with this album?

Nicholas Payton: Well I think in general, Greg, I guess this whole period of my life, I feel very reborn in many ways ' not only musically, but I guess just in my life as well: the new record deal, I recently got married. So many things in my life seem to be changing and happening all at once, and I think they all have affected one another in some way.

I'm finding new things and really focusing on all the instruments. And the chemistry between the group, I thought, was pretty astounding. I'm getting a lot of ideas for what I really want to do next because, for me, I think this is a big step in my development. I like to think of it as just the beginning of a new direction that I want to take.

AAJ-VCR: Was there any sort of element in the music that indicated that growth to you?

NP: That was totally my focus ' was to bring a contemporary edge to jazz music, and to incorporate elements of my youth in a way that I hadn't explored previously. And it's something that I think, with the next project, I want to be even more heavily involved in. Plus, just the level of freedom that I found ' how liberating it is to just get the right cats in the ensemble and sort of let whatever happens, happen. More or less, it works organically as opposed to having a predisposed idea to what is going to go down on tape. I just find it's more conducive to the creative element.

AAJ-VCR: Let's talk a little bit about the process of how these songs came out on the record. Because you had five days to record this, correct?

NP: Right.

AAJ-VCR: Yet, the sound is very textured. There seems to be a lot in there. How much of this came out spontaneously?

NP: Oh pretty much all of it. I mean, there was little to no overdubbing on most of the live tracks ' only with a couple of instances which you can audibly hear when there is, obviously, more than one trumpet or saxophone. Those were overdubs. But most of the tracks and all the textural stuff was done live to tape. A lot of stuff wasn't even mixed subsequently. It was just straight to two-track. So it was just really feeding off the energy of each other. We had a couple of months to work with one another and sort of feel each other out and where we were going to go.

I've always been a big fan of coloration and textures and the different sonic possibilities that you can get out of manipulating certain types of instrumentations, and I'm just trying to build upon that same theme in a different way.

AAJ-VCR: With Sonic Trance, we're hearing some effects that go back ' wah-wah effects ' really to the 1970s. Yet you're re-employing them and kind of redefining them. What drew you so far into the synthetic?

NP: I'm really interested in incorporating the sound of what's available technologically speaking and mixing that with the organic use of improvisation that we've been exploring for the last couple of years.

In terms of just the recording aspect, I really wanted to exploit the fact that we were in the studio, and that there's a certain element that you can bring to recordings that can't really happen on a live performance. There are so many things that you do with panning things from left to right, and having things out of phase that sort of give the listener the effect of something dramatic, or even more so, cinematic. I just really wanted to exhaust all the possibilities of all this wonderful digital technology that we have at our disposal, but still retain the element of jazz.


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