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Trombonist Isrea Butler Releases 'Congo Lament'

Grammy award-winning Count Basie Orchestra lead trombonist Dr. Isrea Butler of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) pays tribute to trombone legends J.J. Johnson and Bennie Green on his swinging debut recording!
Isrea Butler
Hailed by Count Basie Orchestra bandleader Scotty Barnhart as a “superb musician and soloist who has great technique and a refined sophistication,” Butler’s recording primarily features compositions by Bennie Green from his 1959 LP, Bennie Green Swings the Blues, and saxophonist Ike Quebec’s album, Easy Living, which also features the trombonist, and was recorded in 1962.

Fellow Basie band mate, tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence, whose conversations with Butler led to the birth of this recording, joins the trombonist on this CD, with an all-Nevada rhythm section consisting of pianist and UNLV Director of Jazz Studies Dave Loeb, bassist Steve Flora and veteran drummer Bob Chmel. Save for the lovely rendition of the ballad standard, “Pennies from Heaven” from Bennie Green Swings the Blues, the remaining six selections come from Quebec’s album, including Green’s Latin-tinged “Congo Lament” and “B.G.’s Groove;” Quebec’s bouncy, “I.Q. Shuffle;” another standard ballad “Easy Living;” Stanley Turrentine’s blues, “Que’s Pills” and Ma Rainey’s gutbucket-grooved classic, “See See Rider.”

On all of the tracks, Butler’s buoyant and beautiful trombone lines combine the best of Johnson’s bebop fluency and Green’s down-home swing.

As Butler writes in his liner notes, “When I first heard Bennie Green playing alongside one of my other trombone heroes, J.J. Johnson, I was captivated by their sound and style. So, for my debut recording as a leader, I needed to pay tribute to these two jazz greats that still ring within me so deeply.”

Butler’s first record as a leader comes after decades of being one the most durable and dynamic trombonists on the scene, as the lead trombonist with the Count Basie Orchestra—which won a Grammy for Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Basie Swings the Blues in 2023—and with Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Mingus Big Band, Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, and the Jimmy Heath Orchestra. His recordings as a sideman include Eric Person’s Thoughts on God and Eleven, by Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band. Butler has also performed classical music with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Rochester Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, and the Gateways Music Festival.

A native of Sanford, Florida, Butler is the Director of UNLV’s School of Music. He earned multiple degrees in trombone performance from the Eastman School of Music (BM, MM) and Rutgers University (DMA). Prior to his appointment to UNLV in 2023, Dr. Butler was the Music Department Head at Valdosta State University, and the Music Department Chair and Professor of Trombone at North Carolina Central University from 2017–2021.

He also taught at the Juilliard School of Music’s Music Advancement Program (MAP), Eastman, Rutgers, and several other universities.

Butler’s stellar and swinging career is a great counter-statement to the oft-repeated maxim, “those that can’t, teach.”

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Track Listing

Congo Lament; I.Q. Shuffle; Easy Living; B.G.'s Groove; Pennies from Heaven; Que's Pills; See See Rider.


Album information

Title: Congo Lament | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Vegas Records


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