Vytautas Labutis (b. 1960) is one of the finest and most celebrated figures of Lithuanian jazz. He is a flexible musician, playing both free improvisations and composed structures; he performs with equal force in small groups and large bands, and has a command of diverse styles. The distinctive improviser and multi-instrumentalist plays saxophones, clarinets, keyboards, often more than one instrument at once, and expands the instrumental expression by instrumentally treated vocal. He is one of the busiest Lithuanian jazz musicians, an outstanding band leader, often becoming the 'spiritus movens' of many jazz events in Lithuania.
He made his debut on jazz stage in 1982 with the legendary Petras Vyšniauskas Quartet (1982-88), and has also played in the big band of his mentor Vladimir Chekasin and, since 1987, in his quartet. In 1988 he teamed up into a trio with the members of the former Vyšniauskas Quartet after it disbanded. Since then he has initiated many groups, was a leader of a quartet and, since 1995, a co-leader of the quintet Gone With Jazz. In 1997 he founded an octet and recorded with it the first full album of his own music, Terra Vandetuja. In 2002 he created the Orkestretto project with the young jazz musicians.
Vytautas Labutis has performed with nearly all Lithuanian jazz musicians. He is a member of Lithuanian Jazz Trio, Vilnius Jazz Quartet, Dainius Pulauskas Sextet (since 1998), Leonid Shinkarenko Jazz 4, Vladimir Tarasov's Lithuanian Art Orchestra and the Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra. He is constantly involved in international projects, such as JazzBaltica Ensemble (leaders David Murray, Niels Pedersen, Maria Schneider, Django Bates and others), Octet Ost III, East-West Vapirov Project, New European Saxophone Quartet and Moscow Composers' Orchestra.
With different groups he has performed on many European stages, in Asia (jazz festivals in China and India), Australia and the USA (Ford Montreux Jazz Festival in Detroit). In 1996, Vytautas Labutis' merits to Lithuanian jazz were recognized by the Birstonas Jazz Festival Grand Prix.
In recent years Vytautas Labutis mostly performs with the Lithuanian Jazz Trio, which received in 2004 the LT Identity award of the Lithuanian Institute for promoting Lithuanian jazz. With this trio he performed at the Jazz Expo in Genoa, Italy (2004), and the International Music Fair MIDEM in Cannes, France (2005). He also frequently plays with the Vilnius Jazz Quartet, Dainius Pulauskas Group, and in a duo with the bassist Eugenijus Kanevičius.
Besides jazz, Labutis performs contemporary academic music, participates in experimental performances, appears with the Indian music ensemble Svara, composes for cinema and theatre and works at his own recording studio Saxabassa Records.
© Jūratė Kučinskaitė