Story by Brad Walseth
The shadow of two giants still falls over the world of jazz today, and the city of Chicago paid tribute to them both this week. Miles Davis and John Coltrane are the twin architects of much of what modern jazz is today, and their legacies live on in the work of all modern jazz artists. Tuesday night at the incredible Harris Theater, Nicholas Payton and his sextet paid tribute to Miles Davis in a superbly compelling performance to a nearly packed house.
Normally brassy trumpeter Payton suprised many by spending much of the evening playing piano and electric piano, only occassionally reaching in and dazzling with his impressive display of chops on his main instrument. He played many of his lines in a hushed and engagingly Miles-like manner that seemed almost reverent. Payton is still recovering from an auto accident, and this may have led to some of the subdued quality, that was pleasant nonetheless.
The Harris acoustics are stellar, and soloists Devin Phillips and Tim Warfield on saxophones had many splendid moments in the spotlight. Guitarist Michael Moreno added a light feathery touch on his instrument and traded off with Paton's keyboards in adding comping color and tone.
The two sets consisted of classic Miles modal pieces like "So What," and "Freddie Freeloader," as well as uptempo raves like "Joshua" and the audience appreciated every note. The Jazz Institute, the Harris, Nicholas Payton and his band, and all who attended deserve a shout out for giving Miles a fitting 80th birthday celebration wherever he is.