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Nicholas Payton – Sonic Trance

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Why do people hit a musical wall at a certain point in their life? They stop listening to anything put out after their high school (or college) years. Worst of all: they just stop listening. Music is no longer a part of their life.

Of course, there are a whole lot of reasons. They mostly boil down to the pressures of adult existence: career, marriage, kids, rent, car payments, divorce, etc. I can see that, though I have yet to hit “the wall” (and suspect I never will). But hey, priorities do shift. Some things become ‘unimportant’.

But the one excuse I can’t deal with is the “there’s just nothing good out there anymore” waffle (yes, I know this really can mean “I can’t find anything that sounds like my old Stones records”…but I’ll ignore that for now). Sorry, if you can’t find something to interest your shakin’ cochlea, well, you’re just not trying. There’s a boatload of great music being made today…but you’ve got to ignore the obvious and do a little digging.

Take the jazz world. Sure , you’ve got your young lions (who really aren’t that young anymore), the smooth jazzers (not for me but, hey, you never know) and also the giant jazz reissue machine..maybe there’s something for ya in that big pile. But look beyond that and surprises can be found.

I’ll use today’s cd, Nicholas Payton’s Sonic Trance as an example. Now here’s some music that’s not easily pigeonholed. A few years ago they woulda slapped the “Acid Jazz” (never liked that term) tag on it. Sonic Trance takes the spirit of trip-hop and trance music (which you can hear in the beginning moments of “Praalude (sonic trance)” and smashes it headlong into early fusion, particularly Weather Report and electric Miles. Mixed in is a little of the groove-mining found on many of Bill Laswell’s projects (see: Radioaxium: A Dub Transmission and Panthalassa to see what I’m talkin’ about). What you end up with is a whole lotta funk..from many different directions. A musical hologram.

“Fela 1” shows off the electric Miles thing with a screaming wah-trumpet solo. It sounds to me like a person going insane…and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. “Cannabis Leaf Rag 1” starts off with a twisted snippet of “The Entertainer”, then uses that melody as fodder for more explorations. My favorite track is “Velvet Handcuffs”. It’s built around a sparse drum vamp and a single echoing trumpet stab that shows up every couple of bars. The sax begins a response to the horn as the bass and percussion start up to imply a deep groove. Last to enter is a druggy keyboard, dripping angular notes here and there. I just love ensemble workups like this. Instead of just playing changes the group starts with a single idea and takes it from there.

So is this stuff too much for your Mr. NothinGoodOutThere? Dunno….but it sure wouldn’t hurt him to give it a try.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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About Mark Saleski

  • But the one excuse I can’t deal with is the “there’s just nothing good out there anymore” waffle. . . . Sorry, if you can’t find something to interest your shakin’ cochlea, well, you’re just not trying. There’s a boatload of great music being made today…but you’ve got to ignore the obvious and do a little digging.

    I totally agree. I think the problem is really that people don’t find anything new to listen to because it doesn’t sound like what they already know. In general, most people find something they like and that is what they stick with, forever. Most people don’t appreciate music that challenges them, and they find a challenge in what they perceive as simply “entertainment” to be more an irritant than an enlightenment. What they want is more of the same ol’ same ol’. Me, I get very bored if I don’t find something that perplexes the hell out of me once in a while. New things that are challenging always shed new light on old things and allow me to get a new perspective of what made that “old thing” so interesting in the first place.

    In general, I think that if you can’t find something new and interesting to listen to, you probably didn’t care all that much about it in the first place. It’s all out there, it always was, and it always will be. It won’t be instantaneous, you won’t be able to walk into Sam Goody or Target and find it, but, like most worthwhile things, it will be worth seeking out. I just don’t understand why people won’t do it, when you get the kind of return on investment you get from music.

    What astounds me are the people who will happily pay $15-20 for a movie they can’t possibly watch very often (since they are so busy, you know) but will not seek out music that they can listen to in the car, at work, at home, running, biking, etc. What the hell is wrong with people’s priorities? Do you REALLY need to own How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days?

  • Eric Olsen

    But guys, WE are the freaks. I have heard the “golden age” for popular culture is 12, and that most people like best what they like most at 12 for the rest of their lives. That being the case, just keeping an open and seeking mind into your 20s, let alone 30s, 40s and beyond takes some effort. Most people just don’t care that much.

  • true E, we are the freaks.

    i sort of wonder what it’s like in other cultures where art & music are more highly valued.

    …or maybe our culture is so pervasive throughout the world that there’s not much difference.

  • Eric Olsen

    The one area I see Europe as having a better idea than we do is in its support of the arts for art’s sake. The conservative or libertarian notion that the marketplace can support the arts is just jibberish. Support of the arts is just as much a public good as providing for the common defense, or at least almost so.

  • Amen, Eric. And you know as well as I do that when it comes to moving Jazz forward into the 21st Century, the Europeans have it all over the U.S. (see, for example, E.S.T. and the ECM label). Glad to see Payton entering the fray, although from the titles of his tracks, it sounds like he may be forcing his attempt to be “edgier” (kind of like “Watch out Jazz fans, this isn’t the next Marsalis Standard Time release).

    And God Bless Blogcritics for helping feed us musical Peter Pans who hope our tastes never grow up and old.

  • c’mon…how can you not like a song titled “Stinkie Twinkie (remix)”?

  • I gladly hold up the Blue Series on Thirsty Ear as evidence that there are at least some Americans that care to advance jazz for the sake of art, not profit. There’s no way they can expect a big return on this stuff – it probably doesn’t even come close to the small sales Thirsty Ear’s normal catalog produces. But I’ve bought nearly everything I could find from the label (save for Matt Maneri – just couldn’t handle the screechy violin thing.)

    Freaks? You bet, and damn proud to be one of them!

  • Eric Olsen

    I am all about the Stinkie Twinkies.

    Thanks Ross, I am a huge ECM and Eurojazz fan, especially on the avant-electronic-ambient end of things. And re support for the arts: some things you do because they make life better.

  • About the only thing “trip-hop” about this CD is the 1990’s sequencer drum track on the first 30 seconds. But fear not, the spooky newage wooshing noises promptly yield to someone playing Donald Faganesque piano chords on an electronic keyboard. I got a good laugh at the grown man barking the words “Sonic Trance” into a digital delay pedal much like an elementary school kid who got a Radioshack “you can be a rock singer” microphone for Christmas. Someobody please lock down the cheesy electronic sound toy box before Mr. Payton hurts himself with the flying saucer or laser gun!

  • Eric Olsen

    so you don’t like it?

  • No, I didn’t really like it. Granted I’m not a big fan of modern jazz so my opinion on most things jazz should be taken with a grain of salt. Mark lured me in for a listen by invoking the label trip-hop (i AM a big fan of that genre) but as I said there wasn’t any of that here in my opinion…

  • Eric Olsen

    Well thank you for the explanation – the question was a bit facetious.

  • mr. stinkie twinkie is a co-worker of mine who we sometimes refer to as ‘mikie’, because he hates everything.

    in particular, most instrumental music.

    also, note the cute stabs back at the artist with almost no attempt to actually listen to the music.

    ever listen to either laswell or weather report?

    i didn’t think so.

  • Hey now, I listened to that CD twice before penning the cute stabs! As for something I don’t hate, how about the new Beth Gibbons/Rustin Man album (the latest project by the singer from Portishead). It’s fantastic and very significant, probably the most interesting thing I’ve heard this year. Maybe I’ll bring it in for you to review; then you could use the words Trip Hop legitimately. 🙂

  • if you would step away from your screen full of instant message windows long enough to actually read all the words in the post…you would see:

    …takes the spirit of trip-hop and…

    the important word being ‘spirit’…bill laswell’s sound (i think) was a big influence of trip-hop and trance.