Nicholas Payton | Letters

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Urban/R&B: Neo-Soul Urban/R&B: Soul Moods: Mood: Sex Music
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Letters

by Nicholas Payton

Crystal clear, high octane funky, hypnotic ode to the vowels and consonants that give us voice, and the verses and keys that disrupt the hush.
Genre: Urban/R&B: Neo-Soul
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
clip
1. A
5:26 album only
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2. B
5:40 album only
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3. C
3:33 album only
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4. D for Dario Payton
5:04 album only
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5. E
3:54 album only
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6. F for Axel Foley
6:26 album only
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7. G
3:43 album only
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8. H
5:28 album only
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9. I Just Want 2 B With U
4:08 album only
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10. J
4:59 album only
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11. K
3:01 album only
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12. L for Melvin Lastie
5:06 album only
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13. M for Donald Bailey
6:13 album only
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14. N for the Piano Players
7:38 album only
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15. O
1:45 album only
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16. P for Bud Powell
2:08 album only
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17. Q for Quincy Jones
2:31 album only
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18. R
1:06 album only
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19. S
4:08 album only
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20. T for Wilson Turbinton
3:07 album only
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21. U
1:50 album only
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22. V
5:07 album only
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23. W
1:35 album only
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24. X for Patrice Rushen
1:44 album only
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25. Y Miss Me If U Don't Have 2
4:20 album only
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26. Z End
0:21 album only

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Letters is Grammy Award-winning artist Nicholas Payton's ode to the vowels and
consonants that give us voice, and the verses and keys that disrupt the hush.

Following in the footsteps of his 2014 release Numbers, all compositions on Letters were born of sketches that Payton collected while on the move. "As with Numbers, many of the tunes on Letters were 4 or 8-bar ideas that I had recorded onto my phone during moments of inspiration," explains Payton.

"On Numbers I'd link different ideas together usually in groups of two or three, but for Letters I left the fragments as they were.” A key difference between the two albums can be heard in the density of performance. On Letters, the pages are filled, punctuated and paragraphed with musical ideas from its leader and sidemen. “As
opposed to Numbers where I let the grooves linger like lines on a blank canvas.

On Letters we go for it and play. It's a more interactive album. We filled in the sheets of space that were left open on Numbers.”

The motifs and musicianship served throughout this effort are as labyrinthine as they are crystal clear, as high octane as they are hypnotic. Whether the lush swing of “A,” the percussive drive of “F,” the sensual glide of “O,” or the head-nodding bump of “W,” Letters is that rare collection that drifts deceptively between
excitement and enchantment.

Fittingly, Letters features 26 new songs titled from “A” to “Z” representing each letter of the alphabet. “I've always acknowledged the power in letters and words.

For the song titles, I toyed with the idea of using words that started with each letter of the alphabet as opposed to just the letters themselves, but I felt that it would stop the songs having open-ended meanings. ‘X’ reminds me of Patrice Rushen and ‘F’ of the film character Axel Foley... but it's important to me that the audience
interpret the work for themselves — random, but not random. Fixed, but malleable at the same time.”

To encourage Letters to take its own shape, Payton recorded the songs in the sequence in which they appeared on his phone, sometimes receiving direct inspiration from their letter-based titles. “Letter ‘M’ was reminiscent of the song ‘Midnight Special’ by Jimmy Smith, so I had Bill conjure Donald Bailey’s drum groove from that track. On ‘L’ and ‘T,’ I'm definitely channeling New Orleans' own Melvin Lastie and Wilson Turbinton. While recording, I was feeling their vibes and I wanted to represent that, so I left space for their spirits to walk through the session.” Other times, the inspiration was more abstract and playful. “When we got
to ‘I,’ the vocal hook just came to me, but I didn't know that would eventually be ‘I’ when I wrote it.”

Perhaps aiding the listeners’ ability to search for their own meanings within each song, Letters finds Payton once again demonstrating his fluency across instruments, playing piano, trumpet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Hammond B3
organ and singing. In selecting which instruments to play, Payton allowed himself to be guided by the compositions' own needs. “I feel the tune suggested the color to me. The way the studio was set up, the keys were all there. In some cases, I played different takes on different keyboards.” While Letters features Payton on
trumpet more than Numbers, the majority of tracks showcase him leading on keys “I went with what felt right. A lot of the letters did feature trumpet on some of the takes, but in the end, I went with the keyboard takes in most cases. It wasn’t an effort to be different or all I want to be known for. It developed naturally this way. Besides... I'm not playing any less trumpet live.”

On Letters, Payton is joined by the sidemen he now uses most on the road — Bill Stewart on drums and Vicente Archer on double bass. Together the musicians achieve a telepathic level of understanding and commitment, fluidly shifting from support of each other to leading the expedition. Every subtlety is honored and
every challenge is met. “Bill's one of the most swingin' drummers I've ever played with. Excellent time, and I'm constantly amazed at the amount of colors he pulls out of the drums. He plays the drums as a melodic instrument. When he swings on the ride cymbal, you can actually hear the wood in the stick — you don't hear that
often. Vicente has been playing with me for 13 years. We have an intuitive thing — it's crazy. There's such a level of trust that I can go in any direction and he gets it, and vice versa. There are no wrong notes when I play with Vicente. That's become increasingly important now that I'm playing keyboards and more in control of
colors. I rely on his razor sharp ability to hear and shape the tonal centers.” As a unit, the group sounds infallible, flawlessly navigating the open terrain ahead of them. “Bill and Vicente know so many styles authentically but never make a parody of them. They deconstruct and construct styles on their own — sort of like a child
might do with letter blocks.”

While Letters was recorded over three 10-hour days with the musicians playing to the very last minute, it was serendipity that gave life to “Y,” the only solo piece in the set. “When we finished we found that the engineer had inadvertently mislabeled
something, so we were missing one letter. I went back to New York and did ‘Y’ in a subsequent session... and that's why ‘Y’ is just me singing and playing on my own.”

Payton remains open, allowing his hopes for the album's reception to reflect the recording process and his wish that the audience experience their own interpretation of the material. “I hope people can appreciate this. It's my biggest foray into keyboard playing on album so far. But ultimately, it's always open-ended. I never have projected goals as to how my work should inspire, as long as it does."

By the artist's own request, we should search for that inspiration in Letters. We should explore the emotions that we hear in these songs.

In these letters we find the notes that play our own melodies and chords; The notes that lock our pulses deep into a rhythm, the tones that we improvise on our journeys toward resolution. From these letters we discover the lyrics that sing of our passion and loss. The lyrics that unlock feelings we long for, the words that finally express everything hitherto unsaid. These are the letters that give breath to
our lives.

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