Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton

  • Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton [Verve, 1997] A

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Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton [Verve, 1997]
Our lesson for today concerns the persistence of culture. Or perhaps the inadequacy of the organic model in matters of style and genre. Or perhaps we should start with the relativity of age. At the time of recording, the session's driving force, trumpeter Payton, was 23. Its star, trumpeter-vocalist Cheatham (now deceased, and not a damn thing relative about that), was 91. One trombonist was barely 40, the other pushing 80. Clarinetist Jack Maheu--next to the trumpeters, the pacesetter here--was almost 70, the others in their fifties. Given his softer embouchure, Cheatham's solos are a little less forthright than Payton's, but both leaders are so immersed in New Orleans style that you rarely register the difference. As rendered here by tourist-circuit revivalists, working scholars, one original, and one pomo phenom, that style isn't dead, decadent, or ironically self-conscious, retaining its spry life and interactive unpredictability even though its revolutionary irreverence is lost to history. Payton keeps his song choices on the novelty side of Tin Pan Alley, where tastemongers are too good to travel unless Berlin or Mercer leads the way, and Cheatham, who only began singing professionally in his late fifties, breathes gentle humor into everything from "Stardust" and "I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues" to "Jada" and "Save It Pretty Mama." Somebody tell Neil Young about this. He's not fool enough to try it, and it'll make him feel good. A