Even by New Orleans standards, pianist Henry Butler is eclectic. In addition to being a classically trained vocalist, he was mentored by such Crescent City legends as reedman Alvin Batiste (who schooled him in the improvisational legacy of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker) and R & B pianist Professor Longhair, and his career has taken him from the touristy gin mills of Bourbon Street to gigs with the likes of Charlie Haden. Butler's 1986 debut album, Fivin' Around (MCA/Impulse!), was acclaimed as an unprecedented fusion of honest-to-goodness soul and musical intelligence, and his output since then (on labels ranging from Windham Hill to Atlantic) has only increased his reputation as a major force in contemporary improvisational music. Though his relentless mix-and-match approach has drawn occasional accusations of dilettantism, and his near-operatic vocals aren't everyone's cup of tea, at his best Butler can yoke together traditional jazz, R & B, and modernism with an improbable and indisputable command of all three. He'll splay colorful free-form tone clusters over a rolling stride-bass line, then suddenly pound out a thunderous lower-register fusillade, over which he'll scatter treble flurries that drip with bluesy funk. Butler's current CD, Blues After Sunset (Black Top), ranges from the driving, straight-ahead boogie-woogie of "I've Got My Eyes on You" to the outre fusion of "Tetherball," which sounds like an after-hours juke-joint summit between Little Walter, Memphis Slim, Ray Charles, and Cecil Taylor. Friday, 6 PM, Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan; 312-573-0564. Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Leonard.