Over the years, pianist Henry Butler has produced a handful of highly acclaimed recordings that combine blues, jazz, and gospel, all in a New Orleans gumbo. ‘Fivin’ Around’ was his debut album, released in 1986 on the re-launch of the Impulse! label by MCA. Indeed, MCA was so impressed with Henry’s word-of-mouth reputation based on legendary local performances, that they afforded Henry an all-star support cast for his recording debut as a leader: Charlie Haden (bass), Billy Higgins (drums), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Azar Lawrence (saxophones), Steve Kujala (flute), Jeff Clayton (Oboe), and even a string quartet. Not all musicians appear on every track; for example, the string quartet only appear on an interesting arrangement of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and backing Butler’s warm baritone voice on “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me”. The choice of Lawrence on sax is interesting because on the tracks that feature the sax the band comes across sounding a lot like the Coltrane band during McCoy Tyner’s time with the band. The tracks that feature Kujala are more abstract than the other tracks, thereby adding variety to the proceedings. There are some rather beautiful ballads to counter-balance the uptempo numbers, giving the entire album a nicely balanced feel.
~ Indeed, the overall impression of this album is one of a well-balanced approach offering a variety of musical styles (mostly penned by Butler). It is the variety and the excellent musicianship that makes this disk highly recommended.