Reviewing the career of pianist Henry Butler, it's all too easy to flash back on that venerable game show of ancient TV To Tell the Truth: Will the real Henry Butler please stand up? Butler's first two albums in the mid-80s displayed his impressive and occasionally arresting grasp of then-modern jazz. His style owed much to McCoy Tyner--no crime there--but, like Tyner himself, Butler had reduced and clarified the crashing chords and buttressing rhythms, and he showed a flair for attractive compositions and bright arranging. But his later albums sent him back to his hometown roots in Louisiana, where he played jazz and R & B piano while studying voice at Southern University; filled with boogie-woogie bass lines, gospel-hued ballads, and Butler's wide-open vocals, they offer the quite different picture of a classic N'awlins piano master, replete with bowler hat and shirtsleeve garters. In actuality, Butler stands somewhere between these contrasting images. His most contemporary work benefits from the soulful core of his musical upbringing. On the other hand, his "traditional" solo piano album of 1992, Blues & More, gained its luster from Butler's delightful anachronisms: it showed that he couldn't (and shouldn't) expunge his feel for the complexities of post-60s mainstream improvisation. In both formats his expansive voicings turn the piano into a decent-sized orchestra, and when he steers clear of cliche, he can bring down the house. Butler leads a trio in Chicago for one night only, and with the temps and humidity readings topping 90, he ought to feel right at home (either one--New Orleans or Los Angeles, where he moved in 1980). Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Paul Natkin.