Henry Butler Trio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Henry Butler Trio 

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HENRY BUTLER TRIO

Even if you didn't know that Henry Butler had entered the world in New Orleans and lived there through his college years--receiving a degree in vocal music from Southern University--an educated appraisal of his piano tickling might lead you to some such conclusion. The obvious clues include the strong boogie-woogie bass lines, revved-up R & B phrasing, and steamy balladry, but these only show up on selected tunes. The rest of his repertoire really tells the tale. As he showed on last year's For All Seasons (Atlantic)--his best album in nearly a decade--Butler has learned to integrate all his influences into a catchy whole. With a firm touch and a skipping beat, he filters the mainstream piano gospel, according to Saints Herbie (Hancock) and McCoy (Tyner), through his New Orleans roots. Even his darkest, thickest chords leave the piano with a little back flip, and his more adventurous melodic developments hint at second-line dancers and bayou honky-tonks; when he goes for the shadings and sentiments of cool jazz, what comes out is ice on soul. Whatever he plays, Butler draws upon a tradition as old as his hometown predecessor, the 20s jazz genius Jelly Roll Morton, in which the piano becomes a small orchestra. His expansive voicings complete the New Orleans connection, allowing even modernist ideas to ring out with that city's mystical fervor. Butler, who now lives in LA, gets to Chicago at least once a year, and his shows have achieved a reputation for their no-holds-barred energy; this weekend's rhythm section, anchored by powerhouse drummer Dana Hall and featuring bassist-for-all-reasons Larry Gray, aren't likely to disappoint. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Henry Butler photo.

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