At the risk of stating the obvious, the best tribute albums involve musicians with their own personalities capable of interpreting the material in such a way as to bring something new and fresh to the table. That is exactly what Nicholas Payton does with Dear Louis.
And things could have come out quite to the contrary considering that on the surface this has all the trappings of a major label concept album. You know how that works, a rotating cast of characters, including some big name vocalists. Not that Dr. John or Dianne Reeves add anything all that considerable to the whole, but they certainly don't distract from what has to be Payton's most ambitious work to date.
On most of the numbers, Payton writes charts for a large ensemble that gets a major boost in the lower register by the addition of Bob Stewart's tuba. "Tiger Rag" makes the most of this, with Scott Robinson adding even more bottom end via his use of a contrabass saxophone. The same track is also one of several to feature Melvin Rhyne on B-3 organ. Not to be missed are the roles that Payton's regular band plays in this affair, namely the rock solid support of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Adonis Rose.
"Hello, Dolly" escapes any degree of its kitsch quality, as Payton turns it into a bossa nova. The same goes for the approach to "I'll Never Be the Same," with the trumpeter flexing his own vocal chords (he does the same on "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You," with jubilant results). Even the most overtly apparent nods to Satchmo, such as a verbatim introduction to "West End Blues" from Payton, give way to more modern territory. Again, this leads Payton to explore his own pastures on this greatly varied and immensely satisfying disc.
Track Listing: Potato Head Blues, Hello, Dolly, I'll Be Glad When You're Dead (You Rascal You), Tight Like This, Interlude, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Dear Louis, Blues in the Night, The Peanut Vendor, Mack the Knife, Tiger Rag, I'll Never Be the Same, West End Blues.
Personnel: Nicholas Payton: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals, Fender Rhodes electric piano; Paul Stephens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ray Vega: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Bob Stewart: tuba; Bill Easley: clarinet, alto saxophone, flute; Scott Robinson: bass clarinet, baritone and contrabass saxophones, flute; Tim Warfield: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Melvin Rhyne: organ; Anthony Wonsey: piano; Walter Payton: bass; Reuben Rogers: bass; Adonis Rose: drums; Kenyatta Simon: percussion; Dr. John: vocals; Dianne Reeves: vocals.