Like its two predecessors in Steven Bernstein’s cycle of four “Community Music” albums being released this year (vinyl and downloads only), Manifesto of Henryisms
is built around a concept. This time, the trumpeter, composer and producer focuses on the rhythmic and harmonic idiosyncrasies he observed in the playing of the late Henry Butler, a musician whose approach seemed to encompass that of all of New Orleans’ piano “professors.” The two co-led the Hot 9, a name nodding to Louis Armstrong, and toured and recorded together for about five years until Butler’s passing in 2018.
Bernstein’s music has ranged from early jazz — sometimes played on his antique slide trumpet — to avant-leaning sounds and pop-music reinterpretations. Here, with a group that often sounds like a little big band, he handily touches on portions of that spectrum, starting with a spiky version of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp,” highlighted by some call-and-response between guest organist John Medeski and the horn section. Then he fast forwards a half-century or so to the funky sounds of “Booker Time,” Butler’s tune in honor of James Booker, another New Orleans piano legend. Doug Wieselman’s clarinet takes the lead before Bernstein’s slide trumpet picks up the melody, with Erik Lawrence’s baritone sax keeping it crunchy down low, Matt Munisteri providing chunky guitar and Medeski bubbling away on organ.
The relatively short set of music — 7 tracks and a little more than 40 minutes — also incorporates Charlie Burnham’s eclectic fiddle lead and a free section on Sam Morgan’s 1927 “Bogalusa Strut”; Burnham’s soul singing on the Fats Domino-Dave Bartholomew blues “My Girl Josephine”; and guest Arturo O’Farrill’s bebop-to-Afro-Cuban piano wizardry on a couple of tracks. Ellington-esque horn voicings appear in several places, including on a piece connecting Bernstein’s “Newport Aperitif” to Ellington’s “Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue.” While the album (due out September 2) toasts the leader’s fallen friend, it might fairly boast an alternate title: “Stevenisms.” — Philip Booth
Featured photo: Jacob Blickenstaff.