Billy Butler

This Is Billy Butler

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In the 1960s, Billy Butler was not only one of the top guitarists in the soul-jazz field -- he was also a busy, in-demand session player who backed his share of R&B heavyweights. Butler, one of the countless jazz greats who came out of Philadelphia, had so much work as a sideman that it took him a long time to record an album under his own name. In fact, the guitarist had just turned 43 when, in December 1968, he recorded his first session as a leader, This Is Billy Butler. This vinyl LP is a soul-jazz/hard bop classic, and Butler has a talented cast of players to help him pull it off -- one that includes producer Bob Porter and engineer Rudy Van Gelder, as well as tenor saxman Houston Person and pianist/organist Ernie Hayes (among others). While Person delivers his share of inspired solos, Butler is the man in the driver's seat, and he really soars on material that ranges from Nat Adderley's "Work Song" to Butler originals like "Bass-ic Blues" and "The Soul Roll." Butler and his sidemen also turn their attention to Don Redman's "Cherry," a standard that has often been heard in classic jazz and swing settings, but easily lends itself to an inspired soul-jazz makeover. In retrospect, it's surprising that a guitarist of Butler's stature didn't record as a leader extensively -- after providing four of his own LPs for Prestige in 1968-1970, he only recorded a few more LPs for various independent labels. But then, Butler's sidemen work didn't leave him with a lot of free time. It took the Philadelphian 43 years to record as a leader, and this excellent LP proved that he was certainly up to the task.

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