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JAZZ REVIEWS : Payton Offers Passion and Enthusiasm

November 03, 1995|DON HECKMAN

Nicholas Payton follows a long line of jazz trumpeters who became prominent at remarkably early ages--Miles Davis, Clifford Brown and Wynton Marsalis, to name the most obvious archetypes. Like his predecessors, Payton, 21, who opened a five-night run with his quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill on Wednesday, is an impressive technician and an enthusiastic improviser.

Most of his initial set was devoted to pieces from his first solo album, "From This Moment On" (Verve), released earlier this year. And, despite his youth, Payton sounded as comfortable with standards such as "Just in Time" and the album's title track as he did with his own originals.

Short and rotund, conservatively dressed, his face as smooth and unlined as a choir boy's, Payton played with a passionate enthusiasm that appeared to vibrate through his entire body. On especially expressive passages, his substantial girth lifted up from his toes in an effort to pour every ounce of feeling into the horn.

Although he has what can only be described as a huge sound, Payton's rapid-fire, high-speed segments were not at all diminished by the almost juicy richness of his trumpet's timbral qualities. On the up-tempo "From This Moment On," for example, he ripped off phrase after phrase, swinging with great rhythmic urgency and scouring the outer limits of the instrument's upper stratosphere.

Payton's sole problem at the moment is a tendency, common in young players, to let everything hang out in every solo. Emotional pacing, the organization of ideas, the use of melodic variation--all vital to the evolution of a mature improvisational style--are present only in embryonic form. But, given the sheer natural talent that invested everything he played Wednesday night, Payton's future development could bode well for the jazz of the next few decades.

* Nicholas Payton Quintet at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $18 cover tonight and Saturday, $15 cover Sunday, with two-drink minimum. Payton performs two shows nightly, at 8:30 and 10:30.

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