Nicholas Payton taps Ron Carter, George Coleman for new album Smoke Sessions

Every musician has that short list of musicians they’ve always dreamed of working with to bring a recording to life. For multi-instrumentalist and composer Nicholas Payton, one of those dreams has come true with his latest album Smoke Sessions.

In Payton’s formative years, Miles Davis’s 1966 album ‘Four’ & More, recorded live at Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall, left a profound impression on how he views music. Legendary bassist Ron Carter played on that recording and has now joined Payton for his new recording coming out at the end of October on the label of the same name.

Payton, now 48, says Carter’s playing not only inspired him over the years, but has also laid the blueprint for what Payton looks for in a bassist.

“Miles Davis’s ‘Four’ & More was the album that really inspired me to take up music seriously,” Payton explains. “Ever since then, Ron Carter has been an idol and a favourite musician of mine. As long as I’ve been leading bands, I’ve patterned my choice of bassists by the metric of how much Ron they have in their playing. When I’ve looked for pianists in my band over the years, it’s often predicated on how much Herbie they have in their sound. So, this album is really a dream come true for me.”

However, getting the esteemed bassist to play on your record is no easy task. Having crossed paths with Carter many times through his career, it took some convincing to get a date to record with him. “He finally started giving me the time of day,” Payton says with a laugh. “Once I had his interest I hurried up and locked it in before he changed his mind.”


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To rekindle some of the chemistry found on ‘Four” & More, Payton also asked master saxophonist George Coleman to join the group for the tunes on Smoke Sessions. On the recording, Payton occupies both trumpet and piano, with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock’s playing in mind. The group is rounded out by drummer Karriem Riggins, one of Payton’s longtime collaborators who’s known for his versatility and spontaneity.

However, Smoke Sessions is by no means a tribute album; it captures Payton’s influences but incorporates them into a contemporary blend of swing, soul, hip hop, and funk while catering to the strengths and identity of each player.

Looking back on the sessions, Ron Carter himself had high praise.

“I was quite pleased and had fun playing with him as a piano player as well as a trumpet player,” Carter says. “Listen to him play trumpet. He’s listening to my response to what he does — if the trumpet players of today want to try to put him in a place, he should be up there because he listens to what the bass player contributes to his solo.”

The recording of Smoke Sessions was “like a pinch-myself moment,” Payton says. “I used to pretend I was playing with these musicians when I was a child, and now it’s happening. I literally felt like I was walking on air. To have someone I’ve listened to on record and admired from afar actually be a part of something that I created was just beyond my wildest imagination. I remained in a dream state for a couple of months afterwards.”

Here’s the track listing for Still Rising:

  1. Hangin’ and a Jivin’
  2. Big George
  3. Levin’s Lope
  4. No Lonely Nights
  5. Lullaby for a Lamppost (for Danny Barker), Pt. 1
  6. Lullaby for a Lamppost (for Danny Barker), Pt. 2
  7. Q for Quincy Jones
  8. Gold Dust Black Magic
  9. Turn-a-Ron
  10. Toys

Nicholas Payton’s Smoke Sessions arrives Oct. 29 via Smoke Sessions.