Don't ask pianist Henry "Wild Child" Butler to pin a label on the New Orleans All-Stars.
That's not his thing.
"Ours is a very energetic music," Butler told The Bee recently before taking the stage at Crescent City's annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. "It comes out of, well ... the blues, certainly, is one of its parents. Rhythm and blues and gospel, in terms of the vocal harmonies."
Butler fell silent for a moment.
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"We let the people in charge of labeling things do that. If you want to know about our music, ask the people who come out to hear us.
"When we go out to Northern California, there's a reason the places are all full."
Butler and the rest of the All-Stars — Cyril Neville of Neville Brothers fame, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Raymond Weber — are set to perform May 15 in Modesto.
Neville, 60, is the youngest of the Neville Brothers and continues to be one of the driving forces behind the new Orleans music scene, and not just as a talented vocalist and percussionist.
He's the founder of New Orleans Musicians Organized, a group that helps musicians who need business advice with their careers.
Porter, meanwhile, is considered one of nation's top bass players, while Weber and his street-beat-based drum lines always are in demand.
The folks at the Gallo Center have been pushing the funk roots of the All-Stars in recent publicity pieces; even going so far as to parenthetically insert "Funk!" into the band's name.
It's a style of music based upon the blues and R&B that came into its own during the 1970s.
The term itself, however, according to various sources, was born during the 1950s, when it was used to describe the bass-line foundation upon which soul music was built.
So, funk morphed away from its original meaning, a term used to describe a "pungent odor." Instead, it became preferred term to describe a strong and-or distinctive musical "groove."
While Butler will be the first to tell you that "a lot of what comes out of New Orleans is funk," the All-Stars are not your everyday "funk" band.
For one thing, Butler said, R&B in New Orleans differs in sound and texture from the way R&B is interpreted in other parts of the country.
New Orleans R&B is built upon rhythmic, blues-based "licks" that bring joy to musician and listener alike.
"The people who come to hear our music," Butler said, "come to dance and have fun. (And) it's fun for us to see how they respond."
While New Orleans-style R&B is at the core of the All-Stars' sound, the band and its members have been influenced by a number of different artists and musical forms — from reggae to rock to blues to jazz to classical to Caribbean and beyond.
Occasionally, forces outside the musical world intervene, sometimes with profound effect, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina.
"It's opened up a lot of us to ourselves more," Butler said. "There has been a lot of self-searching, pain and crying."
But for artists like Butler, the hurricane and its aftermath have rekindled the creative spirit. Musicians not only have new ideas to share, he said, they are more willing to share them.
Today, Butler lives in Denver.
Katrina took away his home, his wardrobe, a piano, recording equipment and memorabilia, as well as his library of braille books.
Blind since birth, Butler is not one to let a physical limitation — or a hurricane, for that matter --stand in his way. He's a world-class photographer, after all, as well as a world-class pianist.
Still, Butler said he's not sure when — or if — he'll move back to the city that helped shaped so much of his artistry.
"It's such a spirited city," he said. "It's so enthusiastic about its music, and the people that produce that music.
"(But) the conditions would have to be just right. We'll have to see."
Bee staff writer Mike Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2384.