Payton too hot; Wright the right stuff at jazz fest

Jazz thrives on accidents, the unpredictable. So it was Monday at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Nicholas Payton, first show at Kilbourn Hall. Joey Alexander, the 12-year-old pianist who joins Chick Corea on Tuesday night at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, and his family have seats in the third row.

The trumpeter surprises by coming out and settling in behind a grand piano and electric keyboards. A veritable bunker of sound, his short-brimmed, woven hat, the color of the couch in a smoking lounge, showing above the instruments. Accompanied by drums and double bass, he switches to trumpet midway through the first song, “A,” from his album Letters. Twenty-six songs, one for each letter of the alphabet. Payton holds one trumpet note for so long, it’s clear he has the lung capacity of a Solomon Islands pearl diver.

Then on to “F,” for Axel Foley, Payton explains, without elaborating if it’s the Eddie Murphy character from the Beverly Hills Cop series of films, or the rapper of the same name. This time Payton’s on electric keyboards, producing a cascade of nuclear-contamination warning notes. Like a siren.

Like a siren? What’s that noise during the third song? A chirping, like crickets. Is Payton introducing some nature samples into the composition?

Everyone’s glancing around. It’s a fire alarm. The house lights come on – Payton shrugs and riffs a “da-da-da-da-da, dum-da” on the piano – and everyone files out of the building into the street.

And I head over to Harro East Ballroom, where the tweets are telling me that Lizz Wright’s first concert was the show of the fest.

So they never did finish that first set. The fire marshal wouldn’t let anyone back into the building until it had been confirmed that the alarm was set off by a school maintenance person who decided to test the school’s fire system in the middle of a jazz fest.

“Can’t promise it won’t happen again,” Payton said, having proven himself too hot for the first set.

He opened the second show with “5,” from the album Numbers, with more trading off of keyboards and his horn. Returning to “F,” the playing was daring, inventive. Then a sudden shift to “No Lonely Nights” by Keith Jarrett, who’s less about writing notes than he’s about writing moods, with lightly brushed drums by Joe Dyson and upright bass by Vicente Archer that sounded like a murmured conversation in another room.

And then, once again, with a long, ridiculously sustained note of his horn, Payton went diving for pearls off then Solomon Islands.

JSPEVAK@gannett.com