While Payton embodies the bright, soaring tone and charismatic phrasing of the golden age of jazz, he's no revivalist. Even while touring as a teenager with former John Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones, Payton was shaping a signature sound that integrated both traditional and modern jazz concepts into a big-picture style. His latest Verve recording, Dear Louis, shows off this synthesis to great effect, taking a dozen of Satchmo's well-worn titles and giving them a harmonic overhaul that belies the project's mainstream pitch. Buoyant with Payton's characteristic exuberance and a colorful arrangement style clearly indebted to Duke Ellington, the album bubbles over with surprising depth and vivacity.
Despite Payton's commercial profile, he has earned the respect of radical players like the late Lester Bowie, who once applauded the trumpeter's honesty, verve, and authentic grasp of history. In an era of watered-down mainstream jazz, Payton is the real deal.