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Tour de force from Butler

I look forward to the annual jazz concert at the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts, but as I reviewed this year’s line-up, I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a “straight ahead” jazz show.

“What about Jonathan Butler on Saturday, January 27?” I heard someone say.

As a church musician, my experience with Jonathan Butler is his signature song Falling in Love with Jesus, a great song, but not the live jazz I craved.

However, after Butler had finished at the Fairmont Southampton’s Mid Ocean Amphitheatre, I realised how wrong I was.

He gave us more licks, bebop lines, chord twists and changes than we could digest and managed to infuse rock, reggae, pop and gospel into his memorable performance.

Local band The Unit opened with some original arrangements of classics such as Summertime. John Lee almost broke a string playing jazz standard Donna Lee, a bass solo tribute to the legendary Jaco Pastorius.

After a lengthy pause, (I don’t like intermissions), Butler hit the stage. Drummer Jay Williams set the pace. His uncanny ability to play the band into a frenzy and then drop to a whisper captured the attention of the audience and led to a number of memorable performances.

Living My Dream featured a great bass solo from Dan Lutz. Arlington Jones was all over the piano in Do You love Me. It was mesmerising to hear Butler scatting to his own guitar licks in Song for Elizabeth, or capturing the audience with every note of a rock (minus the steady) arrangement of No Woman, No Cry.

Butler rung passion and soul out of every note he sang Saturday night. The band had the ability to take you to the height of excitement and then drop right down to what sometimes felt like an acoustic set.

As the night progressed, they collectively captured more of the audience’s hearts as a reserved crowd broke out of their shell. A powerful ballad, Even the Pain, showcased Butler’s ability to tell a story through song. African Breeze had heads nodding and feet stomping. The evening closed with the Southampton Inspirational Choir under the direction of ... you guessed it, Jonathan Butler.

Butler is a genuine performer who believes his work transcends music and is rooted in his heritage and experience. You could feel raw emotion in his songwriting and arrangements.

As the concert drew to a close, everyone could be seen on their feet singing God Will Make a Way. There was dancing in the aisle, which contrasted the cool cats sipping cold drinks to start the show.

Talk about cold, I almost didn’t leave the house. But as my family and I travelled back home I reflected and, truly, there was “no place I’d rather be”. It may be the first time I’ve been to a Festival concert and left not only entertained but encouraged.

Jonathan Butler (Photograph supplied)