Best known as a trumpeter, here, on his latest album, Payton barely touches his horn. It’s all late-night Fender Rhodes with a band that could be backing Harvey Mason or Herbie Hancock – it’s a skinny-dip through jazz and funk waters after midnight, a little bit like Fourplay at times – a little bit like, um foreplay even.
Damn, one of two of these songs – all instrumental cuts, named after numbers, 12 tracks but we start with Two and end with Thirteen – sound suspiciously like the TV soundtracks for shows like Moonlighting or Family Ties.
It’s almost jazz as twee statement – but it’s never less than fantastic. Payton and his band the very fine quartet Butcher Brown (Devonne Harris, Andrew Randazzo, Corey Fonville and Keith Askey) own this stuff. It isn’t an exercise in genre-hopping or genre-hoping – it’s sincere and thoughtful and beautifully played. It’s a study in understatement, absolutely. And it’s possibly that you could hear this and wonder what’s there – where’s the grit? – but you need to keep listening, listening for when the bass goes for a walk (Eight), listening for when we’re reminded of The Meters (Six), listening for Prince’s Madhouse sound extrapolated (Ten), listening for when Robert Glasper’s recent experiments are nodded to (Twelve).
Numbers is a remarkable album, existing in its own (proud) bubble. It could have been made in 1974 or 1984 or 1994 – but instead it was made in 2014. And you realise then, that actually it could only have been made in 2014, Payton soaking up the sounds that this very nearly references, all the while treading its own line, dragging its heels at times, skipping – always – to its own beat.