On Nicholas Payton’s soon-to-be released Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, the multi-instrumentalist and polymath elevates Max Roach’s sampled admonition on “Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word” to mantra.
As the album title lays out, Payton hews to an imperative that he first brought forth on his second leader CD, Gumbo Nouveau [Verve, 1995]. Like a master chef possessing a deft sense of proportion, taste and poetic flair, this forward-looking heir to the traditions of New Orleans blends an array of related musical food groups—Bebop, Swing, the Great American Songbook, New Orleans second-line, Mardi Gras Indian, Instrumental Soul, Rhythm-and-Blues, Urban, Hip-Hop, and various Afro-descended dialects of Central America and the Caribbean—into a focused sound that is entirely his own argot.
On Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, propelled by keyboardist Kevin Hays, bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Joe Dyson, percussionist Daniel Sadownick, and turntablist DJ Lady Fingaz, Payton seamlessly coalesces his interests, drawing on a global array of beats, melodies and harmonic consciousness to serve his lifelong conviction that music is a process by which the practitioner uses notes and tones to map identity and tell a story.
“I’ve been thinking of the resilience of Black people and African culture,” Payton says of the gestation of Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. “How Africans came on ships to ports in the Caribbean. How those rhythms from Africa got dropped off at points like Haiti and Cuba and Puerto Rico. How those influences and elements sauntered on to New Orleans, which many consider the northern-most part of the Caribbean, and on to Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and then New York. How, with the advent of the phonograph, this New Orleans music became the world’s first popular music as the result of this new medium. How Louis Armstrong became the world’s first pop star, the Michael Jackson of his era. How the music in this African tribal DNA, as I call it, contains all the codes that connect all people—not only all Black or African people—throughout the world.
“I’ve incorporated elements from all the things I’ve written and spoken about for years. It speaks to the moment politically in an overt way that my other albums don’t. On a musical-conceptual level, I think it’s my greatest work thus far.”