Henry Butler & Steven Bernstein – Viper’s Drag (2014/2017)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 51:44 minutes | 577 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: AcousticSounds | Booklet, Front Cover | © Impulse
Living legend of the classic New Orleans piano tradition Henry Butler and prolific arranger and composer Steven Bernstein join forces on “Viper’s Drag”, leading the Hot 9 in a timeless romp through NOLA jazz with tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller and originals from Butler. Bernstein’s unique arranging style shimmers on this record, bringing a contemporary approach to these historic jazz pieces and linking the past with the present—a gentle reminder that jazz is alive and kicking.
Who better to initiate the rebirth of Impulse! Records than Henry Butler? After all, the first time the label was given a new life in 1986, their first recording was Flyin’ Around, his debut album as a leader. Viper’s Drag is a collaboration between the pianist/composer with in-demand trumpeter and arranger Steven Bernstein (Sexmob, MTO Orchestra), surrounded by an all-star cast including drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Reggie Veal, saxophonists Michael Blake, Peter Apfelbaum, and Erik Lawrence, violinist Charlie Burnham, clarinetist Doug Wieselman, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, and guitarist Matthew Munisteri. The set features readings of Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton tunes, three Butler originals, and two other classic pre-War numbers. But “revivalism” this isn’t. Bernstein’s expansive charts take in the vast, indefinable whole of Butler’s musical persona, which includes a rightful place in the pantheon of New Orleans pianists. Waller’s title track contains a minute-long intro displaying the rhythm section’s funky modernism, with Butler moving between modal and free jazz, and the horns playing a controlled harmonic chaos. It gives way to an elegant Ellingtonian interlude that shapeshifts to stride before coming hard into the melody and played with joyous abandon. Butler’s “Dixie Walker” immediately follows. It’s a fluid yet gritty second line. Bernstein’s chart evokes the spirit of Sidney Bechet in the horns, and an unlikely, funky blues from Munisteri, complemented by Burnham’s swinging fiddle. Butler sings in a slow, slippery style on “Buddy Bolden’s Blues.” It’s a faithful piano and rhythm trio until he throws in blocky harmonic chords and the band comes in with a soaring blues at the four-minute mark. It closes with a sweet, yet nearly cacophonous roar. Syncopated funk signals the intro to Morton’s “Wolverine Blues,” which segues toward swinging ragtime before Bernstein inserts a funky rhumba with Butler playing guajeo in a montuno to close. The myriad rhythmic and harmonic twists and turns on “King Porter Stomp” never lose sight of the melody and add dimension and color. Both Andy Gibson’s 1930s-era “I Left My Baby” and Butler’s “Some Iko” feature the pianist’s vocals. The former is a soulful blues with a modal-meets-cumbia intro, while the latter is his revisioning of the Caribbean-tinged second-line groover. On Viper’s Drag, the combination of Bernstein’s bracing, visionary charts in combination with Butler’s literally astonishing abilities as both interpreter and soloist, offer not just a new take on hot jazz, but its possibilities for future creative expression. This record is like the soundtrack to a party that has been going on for a century.
01 – Viper’s Drag
02 – Dixie Walker
03 – Buddy Bolden’s Blues
04 – Henry’s Boogie
05 – Gimmie A Pigfoot
06 – Wolverine Blues
07 – King Porter Stomp
08 – I Left My Baby
09 – Some Iko
Arranged by Steven Bernstein, except “1 & 3” by Henry Butler and Steven Bernstein.
Conducted by Steven Bernstein. Produced by Joshua Feigenbaum.
Recording & Mixing Engineers: Dave O’Donnell & Roy Hendrickson.
Recorded at Avatar Studios. Mastered by Matt Agoglia at The Ranch Mastering.
Henry Butler – piano, vocals on “3,8,9”
Steven Bernstein – trumpet, slide trumpet, alto horn
Peter Apfelbaum – tenor/soprano saxophone on “1-3,5,9”
Michael Blake – tenor/soprano saxophone on “4,6,7,8”
Erik Lawrence – baritone/soprano saxophone
Doug Wieselman – clarinets
Curtis Fowlkes – trombone
Matthew Munisteri – guitar
Reginald Veal – bass
Herlin Riley – drums
Charlie Burnham – violin