I’d been hearing about this Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis collaboration, and to be honest had trouble imagining how it could work. That must have been a me issue, because apparently Willie and Wynton imagined it working quite well…and it does work quite well. I do still have a little trouble getting over www.willieandwynton.com or their Facebook page. All the pics of Wynton in vest and tie, and Willie in his hat with that beat up old guitar. It’s almost like the president of the Young Republicans going on a date with that pierced/tattooed chick with green hair. THEY probably had a great time, but everyone else can get too stuck in their ideas of genre or their prejudices to see that.
Genre is a problem for this record. Genre is a problem in general (see DJA for some good thoughts on this idea). This isn’t a jazz record, but it’s got some enjoyable improvising from musicians that would be considered jazz musicians. It’s not really a country record, or a blues record. Is Americana a genre? It might be that.
The good new is, that regardless of what you call it, it is fun to listen to. There is a real depth and honesty to what Willie does, and that makes me feel good. It grooves hard, and that makes me move parts of my body as I listen. Come to this music without preconception, and chances are it will grab you.
It is easy to have preconception about Wynton. Every time I hear him do that spot for his XM show, when he says “we’re gonna hear some cats who CAN PLAY!” I always think, “what, everyone else sucks?!?!” I don’t think he means to imply that only those endorsed from his Swing Seat can play, but it can come off that way. Then he talks about hearing “what’s happening on the real jazz horizon,” right before the voice over names a few famous dead jazz heros. It’s easy to look at the fashion ads and all of that and think hat Wynton is not really about music but about other stuff. I don’t think that is the case, but either way, just clear your mind, forget who it is, and listen.
It’s not about high art (pun intended), but it does address the basic values of much of American music, and it sounds good. It works.
Full disclosure: a copy of the CD “Two Men with the Blues” was provided to me.