With his Warner Bros. debut, Nicholas Payton’s audacity to explore the funklicity associated with ’70s Miles and Ornette may agitate purists, but also signals this magical hybrid could be yet another stage in the evolution of electronica.
The head-bobbing opening cut, “Praalude (Sonic Trance),” reveals, though, that the 30-year-old hasn’t forfeited the signature warmth and tender approach of his earlier, more straight-ahead Louis Armstrong tributes. From there, the notably titled “Fela 1” delivers a mind-blowing combination of wild wah-wah and imaginative soprano sax. The ride gets even more innovative with the carefully placed staccato trumpet stabs in “Velvet Handcuffs.” Payton wittily quotes “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” in the mariachi-flavored “Two Mexicans on the Wall.” And ragtime and hip-hop never sounded as happening as in “Cannabis Leaf Rag 1.”
Although Sonic Trance is a signpost of controversy, not unlike Bitches Brew, its energy and grooving use of blues and rock elements share more with On the Corner. Payton finds higher ground here; still, it’s another way to sincerely exercise the second-line backbeat of his New Orleans birthplace, with a dynamite unit. Meet him, like Prince says, in another world of space and joy.