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Henry Butler

Henry Butler

When: Thu., Jan. 23, 8 p.m. 2014
Price: $18-$34
Henry Butler is probably the most technically dazzling pianist in blues and R&B today. The New Orleans native’s first recordings, released in the mid-80s, featured collaborations with some of the era’s most prestigious and forward-looking jazz musicians. He didn’t begin carving out a niche in roots-wise, progressive blues and R&B till the early 90s, with Orleans Inspiration and Blues & More, Volume 1, where he showed off fresh and often audacious takes on ideas codified by Crescent City piano masters such as Jelly Roll Morton, Tuts Washington, Professor Longhair, and James Booker. Butler’s skill and dexterity can feel overwhelming—like Oscar Peterson, he’s been accused of sacrificing feel for flash. But it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring to watch him tweak, twist, and transform a backwoods barrelhouse obscurity or street-tough second-line anthem over the course of two or three choruses, with references to Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chopin, Cecil Taylor, and Karlheinz Stockhausen—and his emotional directness and impish humor usually keep his performances from sounding too pretentious. —David Whiteis

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