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Taurey Butler, Taurey Butler

How many Dartmouth College graduates with degrees in electrical engineering, who also studied Japanese, wind up in Montréal by way of Singapore with a residency at the House of Jazz and a reputation as one of the most exciting young pianists on the scene?


Only one comes to mind: Taurey Butler. On his self-titled debut album (Justin Time Records), the pianist emerges as a fully-formed master of hard-driving swing with a deep feeling for the blues and ballads. Backed by two simpatico colleagues, the endlessly inventive bassist Eric Lagacé and empathetic rhythmatist Wali Muhammad on drums, he conjures the technical assurance and drive of his Québécois predecessor Oscar Peterson while enhancing his already distinctive voice with postbop, soul and classic jazz flavorings.

Aside from the taut, focused passion his performances convey, the most remarkable thing about Butler is the route he has followed toward musical excellence. Born in East Orange, New Jersey, he began as many great players have, with piano lessons that commenced at age seven. But he detoured at fourteen as his interest in classical repertoire waned and more or less set the instrument aside for the next several years.

That changed abruptly during his senior year in high school. “I was playing trumpet in the school band, but my band director, Barry Centanni, gave me a recording of Oscar Peterson. And I knew right away that’s what I had been looking for. That’s what I wanted to learn how to do.”

Even so, playing piano remained just one of a number of interests Butler pursued through college. His talent at math steered him toward electrical engineering as a profession; similarly, an interest in Japanese culture guided him into studying that language. After he’d earned his two degrees, he concentrated on playing around New York City. Eventually he caught the ear of veteran bassist Eldee Young, whose résumé included a ten-year stint with Ramsey Lewis and co-leadership of the popular Young-Holt Unlimited. Young invited him to join him for a series of extended gigs throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and for several years they worked together in Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai and other exotic ex-pat jazz oases.

When Young passed in 2007, Butler headed back to the New World, settling this time in Montréal. Drawn in part by his curiosity to check out Peterson’s hometown, he quickly found his place at the heart of its jazz community. It didn’t take long for him to connect with the Canadian label Justin Time, through his new bassist, Lagacé (who also spent time performing with acclaimed pianist and Justin Time recording artist, Oliver Jones). Soon after, Butler reunited with Wali Muhammad, who hired Butler for his first gig in Montréal. They landed a residency at the prestigious House of Jazz, which continues to this day.

Much of the eponymous album draws from the set lists at House of Jazz. But it also goes a few steps further by unveiling a number of original compositions. “I wrote some of these tunes for the album specifically,” Butler explains. “One was written a long time ago. I played it for a demo, but it was really loose. For this album, we tightened everything up and made it work.”

That applied as well to the standards they chose to cut. Some are not exactly regular fare on jazz dates, including the opening track, “Sunrise, Sunset,” presented in waltz time with plenty of room for piano and bass to interact. “I played this with Eldee,” Butler recalls. “And it was great for telling the story I want to tell at the beginning of my album. It’s recognizable but not overdone. And the way it starts softly and then builds up, it reminds me of what one of my idols, Cyrus Chestnut, did at the beginning of his album, Dark Before The Dawn. I wore that album out a long time ago, so I thought that same approach could be good for me too.”

Butler also displays a knack for fresh, insightful arrangement on familiar tunes, especially on his treatment of “The Lady Is a Tramp.” With quick stops, a sudden shift in rhythm coupled with imaginative reharmonizations on the bridge and other new twists, this chart pulls off the neat trick of standing on its own merits while honoring the song by casting it in a different light.

“That arrangement actually came to me in the shower and wouldn’t leave. I think it was influenced by Eric Reed, another of my heroes; his arrangements go places you don’t expect them to. It doesn’t happen often like that – so I’ve been showering more. At least that makes my wife happy,” he says.

Such moments abound throughout Taurey Butler, in the gently insistent 5/4 flow of his composition “Voice for All,” the velvety, lush changes behind Legacé’s solo on another original work, “Nobody’s Here,” and the group’s exuberant strut and stroll through Horace Silver’s “The Preacher.” All of the album’s many highlights stem from that combination that all great trios possess: the leader’s guidance and those illuminations that can flash through the interactions of the players. “We’re pretty free,” Butler says. “We all know when it’s someone’s chance to do something, outside of fours and trading solos. I even like to take a break in the middle of a solo and let Eric or Wali jump in. When you’re all thinking the same way, you can lose yourself in the music you make together.”

It’s easy to get lost in the fire and funk, the sweetness and swing, of Taurey Butler. But you can also follow the light that his music emanates. Anyone this gifted, having already experienced some adventurous journeys, is clearly on his way to places even more exciting than where he’s been.

Taurey Butler Trio Sunrise SunsetTVJazz.tv

Taurey Butler · Taurey Butler
Justin Time Records · Release Date: March 13, 2012

For more information on Taurey Butler and Justin Time Records, visit: justin-time.com

..:: SOURCE: DL Media ::..