Eyeballin': Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis' Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center New York City
Willie Nelson has had some odd musical partners over the years: Snoop Dogg, Gonzo the Muppet, Julio Iglesias. But the Red Headed Stranger's live-recorded CD collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, Two Men with the Blues, and now this unwieldy-titled concert DVD, is not only seamless, it’s as if the grizzled outlaw singer and sleek-suited NYC-via-N’awlins jazzbo are musical soulmates.
That’s quite evident here, be it in the exchanged smiles while on stage or in the intercutted interviews between the two men. “With Wynton and these guys, it brings it up to a whole new level,” Willie says. And at 75, Willie approaches the project as if he’s still got plenty left to show his audience.
Filmed at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room Stage overlooking the never-sleeping city's neon and traffic, Nelson, Marsalis and their backing musicians weave in and out of standards like “Bright Lights Big City,” “ Basin Street Blues,” “ Caldonia,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” with style and aplomb. Even on numbers that have been long Nelson-set standards – “Night Life,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” - the Texas legend infuses a spirit in his playing and singing, all too aware that these versions will make a permanent record, though as few Stardust numbers seem rushed.
This genre-blending combo is not without precedent – Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers teamed up a bit in the ‘30s. And this concert is definitely not for fans of Wilie's rowdier side. But as a mellow and warm document of a unique and interesting collaboration, it’s a fine release. Can’t wait for that Willie/System of a Down pairing next. - Bob Ruggiero