Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9, Dee Alexander | Symphony Center | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9, Dee Alexander 

When: Fri., Feb. 27, 8 p.m. 2015
Price: $24-$76
Since the mid-90s, trumpeter Steven Bernstein has been finding inventive ways of reconciling the early history of jazz with contemporary approaches. He was hired to assemble the band and write arrangements for Robert Altman’s 1996 film Kansas City, which used the city’s bustling jazz scene in the 30s as a key component. Later he formed his Millennial Territory Orchestra to more explicitly collide older styles and approaches with modern repertoires and sensibilities, resulting in a more archly postmodern bent. Recently he’s partnered with the great New Orleans blues pianist and singer Henry Butler and a sharp crew of collaborators dubbed the Hot 9, which tips a cap to the Hot Five and Hot Seven, Louis Armstrong’s brilliant small groups of the late 20s. Together, Bernstein and company have put a temporally displaced spin on the pioneering Crescent City jazz of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and other key figures of early jazz and blues. On last year’s delightful Viper’s Drag (Impulse)—named for the Fats Waller track that opens the album—Bernstein’s vibrant arrangements slyly jumble eras without coming off as John Zorn-like patchworks. The rhythms finessed by bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley move from the strutting motion of trad jazz to the extroverted grooves of second-line brass bands to the displacements and complexities of current New York timekeeping, but rather than sounding self-conscious and clever, these shifts give hoary old chestnuts like “Wolverine Blues” or the Bessie Smith vehicle “Gimmie a Pigfoot” new, ever-changing complexions. (The shape-shifting pianist Butler contributes three originals that similarly reflect different eras and approaches simultaneously.) Complex arrangements only enhance the fun of this crack band, which avoids musty revivalism at every turn. For tonight’s concert the rhythm section will consist of bassist Brad Jones, drummer Donald Edwards, and guitarist Matt Munisteri; the front line features trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, reedists Peter Apfelbaum, Doug Wieselman, and Erik Lawrence, and violinist Charles Burnham. —Peter Margasak

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