“By My Side” is the first track on Nicholas Payton’s 2011 mixtape “Bitches.” Payton is known for being an excellent jazz trumpeter, but that fact notwithstanding he, like the great Lester Bowie, disdains the term “jazz”, viewing it as a limiting term. Today’s “Anatomy of the Groove” feature, “By My Side”, the first song on the album, shows him to be a musician as comfortable with funk, R&B and soul as the worlds of improvisational swing.
The tune kicks in the door with funky, clamourous New Orleans dope beat. The kick drums sounds like somebody either knocking on a hollow wooden door or stomping on a wooden plank floor. The snare sound is just as rowdy, clanging out a clave-ish rhythmic pattern.
The bassline is very special, the bait that lured me into the story of Illith’s Blues. It uses an analog synth sound with portamentau/glide. I love the funky glide, moving from one pitch to the next, with a slow attack, pitches that take their sweet, funky time going from tone to tone.
The effect of the synth bass’s skipping, scooping, dragging and scrapping is something like a chipper tipsy man trying to get dried dog poop off his brand new Italian loafers. The hard New Orleans percussion is therby mixed with a lazy, drawling Bayou feel.
The sunshine on the track comes from Payton’s bright, ’80s style digital synth tones. The mix of analog and digital sounds, bluesy melody and bright major chords all add to a feeling of desperate brightness. There is both happiness and pain in the sound. The harmonic foundation is bright and major, but Payton gives an impassioned bluesy/soulful vocal, backed up by a digital Clavinet sound that provides even more rhythm, along with counterpoint and testimony to Payton’s story of life enhancing love.
“Travel deep inside the jungle/to find the best of my soul”, is how Payton begins his soul searching love affirmation. The song goes into “So What” style chords as Payton says “I ain’t afraid of the next level/although I’m sure to see the Devil.” The song paints the picture of a tough, rascalish “Trouble Man” who has finally found that “ride or die” woman, and is feeling good about it. I should tell you, “By Your Side” is the first song of an album based around the full story of a relationship. Like Payton’s favorite artist Marvin Gaye’s album, “Here My Dear”, the story does not end “well” in the conventional sense. But it does have many riches of sentiment, soul, funk, love and reflection to offer. “By My Side” begins the story of this love affair on a funky, soulful, hopeful note, and it will do the same for you on this or any other weekend on your own journey of love.