Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis 

Two Men With the Blues

How can this be? The jazz snob eclectic music-heads love to hate and the country singer that appeals even to those who dislike country music, performing together? Yet here it is, both gents grooving high on shared ground, namely Great American Songbook pop, swing, and blues.

Recorded over a two-night stand at NYC's Lincoln Center in January '07, Two Men is Willie and Wynton backed by a quintet, featuring saxophonist/clarinetist Walter Blanding and Nelson's longtime associate Mickey Raphael on harmonica, performing (surprise!) a set of standards. Marsalis is firmly in New Orleans and swing modes here (no bebop spoken here), sounding, dare I say it, fabulous. His trumpet playing is spunky, laced with Louis Armstrong-like crackle, chilled-out N'awlins assurance, and an expressive vocalized cry on his horn. Willie is Willie, with his unassuming, deceptively lazy, behind-the-beat vocals, and he gets to spin some nifty 'n' unusual (acoustic) guitar solos. (Imagine if Gypsy-jazz wizard Django Reinhardt came from the Gulf Coast, plus a smattering of avant-guitar icon Fred Frith.) Each is at the top of their games, urging on the other in the genial, as-peers manner of Armstrong and his foil/bandmate Jack Teagarden. Blanding has a sumptuous, blues-drenched sound that sidesteps sounding "retro," while the entire band has that classy small-group jump-swing thing down. (In fact, on the Louis Jordan chestnut "Caledonia," the whole lot sound like Louis Prima's band!)

Two Men With the Blues, aside from being great fun, confirms seemingly disparate genres of American music have more aspects uniting than dividing them. (Blue Note)


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