RECORDINGS Quick Spins

RECORDINGS Quick Spins

A musical odd couple? Thanks to fine supporting players, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis are well matched.
A musical odd couple? Thanks to fine supporting players, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis are well matched. (By Danny Clinch)
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES

Wynton Marsalis and

Willie Nelson

Never mind the title of this 2007 Jazz at Lincoln Center concert recording. The somewhat unlikely but chummy pairing of Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis wouldn't be nearly so enjoyable if it weren't for several musicians who know their way around the blues. Besides harmonica player and longtime Nelson band member Mickey Raphael, the supporting quintet boasts saxophonist Walter Blanding, who threatens to steal the show at times.

Performing mostly a collection of pop and jazz standards, Nelson sounds perfectly comfortable in this jazz setting -- most of the time, anyway. No one would mistake him for a blues or jump-band belter, so it isn't surprising that his laconic take on "Caldonia" brings to mind more robust and compelling performances.

The ballads, slow blues and vibrantly animated novelties are winners, though. "Stardust," "Georgia on My Mind" and Nelson's own "Night Life" aren't exactly surprising choices, but Nelson gives his all in typically effortless fashion, delivering engaging performances that are shaded or illuminated by Marsalis's trumpet, Blanding's sax and Raphael's blues harp.

There are more than a few sparks of spontaneity, too. A lifelong fan of Django Reinhardt, Nelson frequently fires off staccato runs on his nylon string guitar, while Marsalis deftly exploits a rich palette of blues tones and casually trades vocals with the country music legend. The New Orleans brass band favorite "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" and Merle Travis's gospel-charged "That's All" help bring the concert to a spirited close.

-- Mike Joyce

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Night Life," "That's All"


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