Sam Butler’s FOLKLORE out now!

May 5, 2023  /  News

Folklore is trumpeter and composer Sam Butler’s first release as a bandleader, due out on May 5th, 2023 on Shifting Paradigm Records, and filled with an all-star cast of musicians from around the world. Alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Garrett Fasig, pianist Luther Allison, bassist Brendan Keller-Tuberg, and drummer Kenny Phelps all lend their talents to the making of Folklore, which comes together as a nine-track project dedicated to Butler’s musical roots, and his latest explorations.

Butler, originally from the Alabama Gulf Coast, now finds himself immersed in the Indianapolis jazz scene. A two-time semifinalist in the National Trumpet Competition’s Jazz Division, Butler has traveled all around the country to perform, including Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and The Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis. Butler self-released a short EP of music entitled “Spoken Thoughts” in March of 2022, but “Folklore” is his first major contribution.

Folklore arrives as a musical melting pot from Butler. The combination of contemporary jazz with folk, R&B, and classical music is a nod to Butler’s range of influences from a young age. While in school at Indiana University, Butler was exposed to a wealth of different types of music from around the world, and credits that for his wide musical palette. “Folklore has so many different musical aspects to it. I wanted to combine these things that have made me who I am, and put together music that has common threads and motifs that are referenced in all of these different styles. I’ve always loved the idea of motivic writing, and I wanted to do as much as I could with that.”

The project opens with “Suspension (Adrift, Glide),” which was Butler’s first composition for the band. It begins with a flowing intro from Keller-Tuberg and Butler, setting up a melody centered on Butler’s first motif, a “cascade” that evolves into a strong groove from Phelps. Ward takes the first solo, and builds a mysterious tension with the rhythm section, while driving towards the familiar harmony again. Butler takes over as the band starts swinging, and takes us home to a peaceful ending, where Allison’s deft touch on the piano is heard.

“When the Darkness Reaches Morning” is a solo trumpet interlude, which sets up the next part of the album. We begin to hear some of these musical motifs that will be referenced throughout the rest of the session. Butler takes us on a wide musical landscape that follows many melodic threads as points of reference for Folklore as a whole. “I. At Night, and Then Upon Waking” drives home what Butler calls his “clock” theme, as Allison sets up a back and forth motion that remains persistent. The odd meter groove sets up a solid foundation while Butler and Keller-Tuberg perform a flowing melody, based on a variation of the earlier “cascade” motif which then builds into the main core of the tune. A phrenetic free section follows, serving as Butler’s “madness” theme. The groove returns as Butler glides over the same back and forth harmony, as it drives towards one more madness section. The original form returns, now in a major key, as the band grooves hard heading towards the punctuated end of this movement.

“II. Ramifications” starts as a soft and lonesome ballad, and showcases Fasig’s melodic creativity. It evolves slowly through a bass solo into a more driving groove, and then speeds up into an odd-meter solo from Phelps. The three independent lines between Butler, Ward, and Fasig, come together at the end for a triumphant call back to the melody and the previously heard “clock” harmony.

After going on an intense musical journey, “Storybook” serves to simplify these motifs into a hard-driving funk composition that features Ward and Butler. As the title implies, the melody is made up of material derived from other songs on the album, including later tracks. “Storybook” is filled with a playful joy, and is a throw down track for all of the musicians.

“Other Half” is another one of Butler’s earliest compositions, and features beautiful solos from both Allison and Fasig. The long build of tension is achieved through Allison’s unique reharmonizations and the arhythmic melody.

“The Primrose Path” is dedicated to Butler’s father. Ahead of an important life decision, Butler’s father gave him sage advice that helped Butler have a more a clear outlook on his future, which was to not always take the easiest road, or even the one everyone wants you to take. “I think this song might actually be my favorite one. I wrote it entirely just singing and playing the piano, and it all seemed to come at once.” Garrett Spoelhof adds organ to the end of this track, and a wistful and reminiscent song becomes a vessel for the passion and creativity of the ensemble.

“Feeling” gives Allison a chance to tie together some themes from across the album, as he does so with virtuosity. His playing clears the musical palette for an epic final track.

“Premonition, Acuity, Flourish” is a reimagining of a composition Butler wrote early on in his time in college. “I’ve always loved the idea of building something from nothing into a huge moment. Those kind of moments, where you link with other musicians and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Butler says. A nod to the minimalist concept of stacking a melodic fragment at the beginning delivers us to a floating melody, from which Allison takes over as the soloist. As the horns enter, the music begins to slowly break down out of its groove into another “madness” section. The build to the end culminates with an emotional and triumphant group improvisation, led by Butler and Keller-Tuberg, and is punctuated by a solemn moment of reflection before the last note of Folklore.

Folklore demonstrates Butler’s sophisticated composing, especially rare to hear on such a young artist’s debut, while also featuring a dynamic lineup of highly experienced and celebrated musicians who execute and elevate the music to its apex. Sam Butler has stepped onto the scene as a leader that we will hear a lot about in the coming years.