Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Willie and Waylon Wynton and the Boys

I might not have believed this if someone had just told me, but it was profiled in the paper the other day, and now I've seen it with my own eyes. Willie Nelson's latest recording features a most unusual duet partner: Wynton Marsalis. Seriously:
For those of us familiar with Mr. Nelson's oeuvre, his full-blown jazz turn with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will come as no surprise. The country icon's trademark singing behind the beat is classic jazz style, as is his fluid guitar picking. Original songs such as "Night Life" and his interpretations of "Stardust" and "Georgia on My Mind," all three of which are included here, owe more than a nod to jazz. His concerts, whether with his band or a stunning orchestra, always have jazzy moments.
That's a good point. Willie did an album of old standards, Stardust, quite some time ago. I heard most of it on the jukebox in a lodge near where we were camping on a trip in college, and I have to say that I kind of liked it; there was a certain charm to that particular hybrid. So I guess the Willie/Wynton collaboration isn't that big of a surprise, in the grand scheme of things.

The new CD, Two Men with the Blues, was recorded early last year at Wynton's home stomping grounds, Jazz at Lincoln Center. I got a chance to sample it tonight, and, while the 30-second demo cuts in the store don't tell the whole story, the guys basically pull it off. As diametrically opposite as jazz and country might seem at times, they both share a common ancestor in the blues. Wynton sounds great, running the gamut from playing blues in "guitar keys" like A major on the opening "Bright Lights Big City" to revisiting his hometown of New Orleans on "Basin Street Blues," and he and Willie mesh together well more often than not. Staunch purists in either genre might not like it, but it seems from these samples (in the store and on Amazon, which were different from each other) that this recording has merit above and beyond the novelty factor. (And if more than a few country fans--of which there are many--get turned onto Wynton, or jazz in general, from listening to this CD, that's icing on the cake.)

Pork pie meets ten-gallon (historical edition): This is not by any means the first melding of jazz and country; Richie Cole and Boots Randolph collaborated in the '80s on a recording called Yakety Madness, and Randy Travis did a guest duet with Kevin Mahogany on his late '90s album Another Time, Another Place. And Texas-born guitarist Clint Strong, who played on the great Marchel Ivery recording with Joey DeFrancesco, spent quite a bit of time with Merle Haggard (and Willie himself, for that matter).

Missed it by that much: This recording was made in New York City on January 12 and 13, 2007, which means I was in town (for IAJE) when it took place. I had no clue it was going on, of course, and I was rather busy while I was up there, but it's interesting to think that, of the five days I've spent any considerable time in NYC, this recording was made on two of them.

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