Following in the tradition of genre-blending summits that paired Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong, and Bob Wills and Charlie Parker, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis played two nights of the blues at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room against the backdrop of the city at night. An album of the music was released in July 2008 to rave reviews.
Nelson and Marsalis had previously played together at the Apollo Theatre in 2003 on a star-studded bill devoted to an evening of the blues that included B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Eric Clapton, and wanted to work together again. The DVD captures the visuals of those two evenings as the duo is backed by the talented band comprised of Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, drummer Ali Jackson, and saxophonist Walter Blanding.
The DVD is augmented with interviews of Marsalis and Nelson, who talk about their mutual respect and admiration for their talents, the blues, and the importance of New York to a musician. Minor bits of rehearsal footage are also included. It is fantastic to see the process, and I would have loved more of it. Considering the DVD runs 84 minutes, there was certainly plenty of room.
The track listing is in a different order from the CD for no explained reason and the DVD features three extra performances. Duke Ellington and Bob Russell’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” would make the creators proud because it’s given a swingin’ performance. Nelson, Raphael, and Marsalis each get some solo time on the bridge backed by the rhythm section.
Jackson shows off his skills on the skins during the opening of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The song is unrecognizable from the legendary rendition by Brother Bones & His Shadows, which is the theme of The Harlem Globetrotters. However, the band shows an affinity for music equal to the Globetrotters talents with a basketball. After the first verse and chorus, Henriquez’ stand-up bass takes center stage. Marsalis and then Blanding each get a shot to cut loose and let their horns sing out. Nelson jumps in to remind the fellas music ain’t just a young man’s game. Nimmer comes up swiftly behind, tickling the ivories at a quick pace.
The evening closes with the gospel-blues “Down By The Riverside,” a raucous version that concludes with the band leaving the stage and playing on the floor right in front of the audience as Nelson’s bus drives off into the evening, headed for the next show.
The audio is available in Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround Sound. The surround mixes put the viewer right in the middle of the proceedings, although “listener” might be the better word because as much as I am head over heels about these performances, the visuals are terribly put together and I am much more likely to play the DVD with the monitor off.
The biggest travesty is the editing, which is ghastly, cutting much too quick and drawing attention to itself. Just because a cut can be made doesn’t mean it should be. I don’t need shots of the city, which every consumer of media has seen countless times, interspersed throughout. I had hoped it was just the tempo of the opening number, “Rainy Day Blues,” that inspired the choices of director Danny Clinch and editor Paul Greenhouse, but the following song, the slow ballad “Georgia On My Mind,” is given the same treatment. I want to see the musicians play and witness the magic they create, but not even one solo is presented in its entirety. Clinch has really done a disservice to the artists and the audience, but the music is still well worth hearing.