Upon hearing country singer Willie Nelson performing with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis makes me wish I could have been at Jazz at Lincoln Center to fully experience the one-of-a-kind collaboration. Nelson’s charming baritone breathes some fresh country air into the 12-bar blues driven by Marsalis and his excellent sidemen: Walter Blanding Jr. on saxophones, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass and Ali Jackson on drums.
With his relaxed phrasing and impeccable timing, Nelson could maneuver his way around the slow, heartfelt blues as well as the fast, jumping swing. On the splendid opening “Bright Light Big City,” you can’t tell what city it is because the harmonica from Mickey Raphael suggests Nashville while the horns and keyboard lick suggest New York City. But it is this marvelous blend that gives the concert its distinctiveness. “Coldonia” is another perfect example. You could either do the honky-tonky or the hillbilly hoedown or even both if you have the skills.
Marsalis is a brilliant soloist and you could hear the influence of Louis Armstrong all over his big, bold blowing, particularly on “Basin Street Blues” and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.” Yet his most lustrous, indelible solo is on the fantastic closing “That’s All,” in which he wails a long, breathless riff on the high register. He is amazingly in control of the trumpet.
What make Two Men With the Blues a phenomenon is that both men from two different styles had found a common ground in the blues and that they were having a good old time playing together. So big up to Willie and Wynton for this rare gem and big props to Blue Note for capturing the special occasion on tape for those of us who missed the live sessions.