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Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9: Viper’s Drag

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The latest resurrection of the Impulse! imprint begins on the perfect note, with the retro-modern jazz-blues joint Viper’s Drag, by co-leaders Henry Butler and Steven Bernstein and their band the Hot 9. “Retro” because they draw on the oldest corners of the jazz tradition, pulling out pieces by Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller alongside some Butler originals; “modern” because of the sensibilities with which the veteran New Orleans pianist and singer (Butler) and the iconoclastic trumpeter and bandleader (Bernstein) infuse these nine tunes. Close your eyes and you could be anywhere, anytime: New Orleans circa 1920s, Kansas City circa 1940s, New York circa 2014.

On a game-changing arrangement of Waller’s “Viper’s Drag,” which opens the disc, a minute-plus of controlled chaos gives way to an Ellington-influenced segment that segues to a brief stride passage that leads to an early/late New Orleans jazz mash-up and then concludes with a stunning piano solo. The whole band (which features a few of Wynton Marsalis’ go-to players, including bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley), personifies the Bayou tradition, past and present, from the second-line stylings of Butler’s “Dixie Walker” to his racing-backbeat-driven “Henry’s Boogie.”

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