TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES
Wynton Marsalis and
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.