What We’re Obsessed With Right Now
February 12, 2014
The music, coffee, apps, and more that San Francisco staffers are geeking out about this week.
Gary Kamiya, Executive Editor: If you care about American music—deep-dish, authentic, utterly American music, the kind of music that exudes everything weird, wonderful and alive about this huge, unfathomable, mixed-up country—the next time Henry Butler is in town, run, don’t walk, to get tickets. The New Orleans pianist’s solo set Friday night at the intimate Joe Henderson Lab at the San Francisco Jazz Center, part of a 4-night SF appearance, was a revelation. Nobody sounds like this guy, and no matter what he plays, it sounds like a soundtrack for a Ken Burns film. You felt like you’re watching George Gershwin improvising. Butler is classified as a jazz pianist, but the label is misleading. What he really is is a towering son of New Orleans—a uniquely gifted and original exponent of that polyglot, unclassifiable, rollicking musical tradition. The blind virtuoso plays in many different styles, but on Friday he was wailing on songs that were deliriously, almost cornily melodic, made up of huge, fat 10-finger chords, tied together with incredibly muscular and transparent turnarounds, propelled by a machine-like left hand and sprinkled with weird virtuoso runs in the upper register. It’s the exact opposite of the mainstream modern jazz Herbie Hancock-Chick Corea-Bill Evans piano style of complex harmonies and upper structures, but it’s just as compelling—and way more unusual. Dr. John called Butler “the pride of New Orleans and a visionistical down-home cat,” and the doctor was right. The dude is a genius.