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Jazz Reviews : Pianist Henry Butler in Silver Screen Room

February 09, 1988|DON HECKMAN

Pianist Henry Butler exploded into the Silver Screen room with a stormy intensity rivaled on his instrument only by McCoy Tyner. Butler seemed determined to wrench every vestige of sound he could from the room's unforgivably out-of-tune piano.

His opening minor blues Friday started with a bang, propelling Butler into a solo that came as close as any pianist has to achieving the high-flying rhythmic and harmonic orbit of a John Coltrane improvisation.

"My Coloring Book," a dramatic line filled with start-and-stop accents, was initially less appealing, in part because of Butler's tendency to lean too hard on the piece's weighty chordal clusters. But as soon as he soared into the solo sections, Butler began to float freely in a remarkable plethora of brilliant octave runs and rhythmically shifting melodies.

He reached his zenith on a richly textured "Swinging at the Palace" with a solo that was a textbook of contemporary piano styles ranging from Tyner to pure Butler.

If Butler has a problem, it's that he is so overflowing with creativity that he sometimes seems incapable of tempering his musical energy. Too often the fireworks are going off in so many directions that the heart of his music gets lost in the glare.

At his best, however, Butler is one of the most potentially innovative new jazz talents to emerge in the last decade. His playing on a closing race-horse romp through the demanding, rites-of-passage changes of "Cherokee" provided a brief glimpse of the fascinating new perspective he is capable of bringing to mainstream jazz.

He was ably supported by the rhythm team of drummer Sherman Ferguson and bassist Jeffery Littleton.

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