I would consider myself a casual fan of both Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, but I can't say I've ever longed to hear them work together. It's not exactly the first duet pairing you might think of; they're two great tastes, but you wouldn't think they'd taste great together. Or, to take the Reese's metaphor a bit further, it's a collaboration that sounds less like peanut butter and chocolate, and more like peanut butter and pickle relish.
However, the resulting concert, as heard on the Two Men With The Blues CD and the cumbersomely-titled DVD Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis: Live From Jazz At Lincoln Center, New York City, is something of an unexpected treat. It's a little bit of a stunt, sure, but it's fun all the same, as the jazz guru and the country legend meet in the ideological middle and play some blues.
Backed by an impressive ensemble of (mostly Marsalis) players, in front of an audience at the Jazz At Lincoln Center venue overlooking New York City's Columbus Ciricle, Nelson and Marsalis give a laid-back, engaging performance (a pair of them, actually--the DVD is assembled from two shows over two nights). The songbook is mostly comprised of wonderful standards, many of them reimagined by Marsalis' inventive arrangements, including a wistful "Georgia on My Mind," a melancholy "Don't' Get Around Much Anymore," a high-spirited "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It," and the energetic show closer, "Down By The Riverside."
The performances are well-shot, with enough coverage to get every musical moment and all of the byplay between the two legends as well as their impressive work on the sparkling trumpet and beat-up old acoustic guitar. The performance is interspersed with brief documentary-style vignettes, interviewing Marsalis and Nelson and showing them in rehearsal; these are interesting, but a bit of a diversion from the main event.
Live From Jazz At Lincoln Center gets a decent anamorphic transfer, showcasing an autumnal color palate that is muted but warm and inviting. The interview segments have a bit more of a blown-out, bleached-film look, which also transfers nicely. The music is the main attraction, but the picture is a fine compliment.
Simply put, the disc sounds great. Viewers are given three audio options: your standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, a DTS surround sound track, and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I went with the 5.1 and was very satisfied; the track is rich and full, nicely spreading the music (and crowd responses to it) to all channels. The range is excellent, from Willie's tenor voice and Wynton's spirited trumpet to the marvelous upright bass, which sounds fantastic on the LFE channel.
Nothing to see here, folks. There are no extras on this one.
Clocking in at a just-right 84 minutes, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis: Live From Jazz At Lincoln Center, New York City is a thoroughly charming and enjoyable concert disc, well-shot and entertaining. It remains a strange combination, but they somehow pull it off. It's highly recommended for fans, recommended for everyone else.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.