Fortunately for music fans, Butler’s been in the habit of recording his performances for decades. And while Butler lost his home and many of his possessions in the floods resulting from New Orleans’ levee failures in Hurricane Katrina, his archive of tapes survived intact. From this remarkable collection of performances, Butler and pianist George Winston handpicked the 11 songs that comprise PiaNOLA Live.
“It was wonderful to co-produce this live solo recording with Henry,” says Winston. “He is my favorite pianist and performer, and I have been so inspired by him since first hearing him in 1985. I am looking forward to working with him on more volumes of his live work.”
The collection kicks off with Henry’s version of the old New Orleans standard “Basin St. Blues” then launches into a mid-1980’s rendition of Butler’s signatory composition, “Orleans Inspiration,” that’s so sizzling you can almost feel the summer heat rise off the pavement. While he interprets classic compositions of the masters that came before him, Butler imbues them with his own trademarks techniques – the funky bass lines, the interplay of his right and left hands answering each other, as on Allen Toussaint’s “Mother-in-Law,” or acting as one, thus giving added power and percussion to the phrases of Professor Longhair’s tribute to the beloved Crescent City night club, “Tipitina.” Is Butler embedding political statements when, in Katrina’s wake, he includes the Jerome Kern classic “Old Man River?” Or when, having suffered through unsatisfying dealings with FEMA and other bureaucracies, he chooses Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles?” Or are these just great vehicles for his musical gifts? Butler leaves that for the listener to decide.