Henry Butler: Live Last Night
By Mike Joyce
There were times during Henry Butler's performance at Blues Alley on Thursday night when the New Orleans pianist displayed such a punishing attack that he could have been charged with assault and battery on a Steinway. Thundering block chords and hammered pedal tones, resounding vamps and striding parade rhythms, clustered harmonies and resonating syncopations - Butler found countless ways to propel and animate a series of solo performances.
(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)
Like many of those who influenced him, including Jelly Roll Morton and Professor Longhair, Butler is a keyboard iconoclast. The blind pianist spent much of the opening set devising highly fanciful arrangements -- solo orchestrations, really -- laced with rhythmic fits and starts, bold shifts in dynamics, sudden turnarounds and bright, knotty syncopations. His hands sometimes played cat and mouse, left chasing right up and down the keyboard, but more often they opposed each other, creating dramatic contrasts between the bass and treble registers.
The opening set featured nods to Longhair (a rumbling "Tipitina"), Scott Joplin (a definitely not-for-ragtime-purists rendering of "The Entertainer") and New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint (a rhythmically contagious "Working in a Coal Mine"). Butler's skills, however, aren't confined to the keyboard. His tributes to Toussaint and Otis Redding -- via "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" -- showcased his singing, as did some other tunes. Butler alternated soulful crooning with barrelhouse shouts, and occasionally delighted the crowd with his exuberant "blue yodeling." Part of the proceeds from the engagement benefited ailing New Orleans vocalist Marva Wright.
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