Two Men With the Blues pairs Willie Nelson with Wynton Marsalis at two live appearances at The Allen Room, Lincoln Center, New York City, where Marsalis is musical director. Willie has always demonstrated a fondness for jazz, and he has recorded in that setting before, so an outing backed by a jazz combo for some bluesy vocal jazz-pop is well within his range. He doesn’t have to reach for any of this. Although Willie just does his usual thing, it happens to suit the music fine. The only thing Marsalis and his band bring to the table is endless showboating. But the problem is the showboating isn’t very impressive (perhaps only appearing so to the jazz novice). It’s actually Willie Nelson on guitar who brings more adventurousness to bear, with much more affinity for dissonant chords than Marsalis’ hard-bop puritanism permits. Perhaps more time playing together would have allowed a better rapport amongst the musicians. As it stands, this is adequate, but falls well short on creativity. A pairing of Nelson with someone like saxophonist James Carter might be more interesting.
Wynton Marsalis has become the poster child of the conservative movement in post-1970s jazz, which tends to view the genre as something entirely mapped out with well defined boundaries that has survived certain “failed” formulations that are only worthy of being derided or ignored. He is relied upon as the “definitive” musician-commentator on jazz. And so he has been regularly featured in films, etc. pontificating about the meaning of the music as a whole. Naturally he does so from within the narrow confines of his own definitions of what jazz is and should be. And, naturally, I hate his fucking guts for that. But Black Codes (From the Underground) is still a success. In spite of its scarcely-concealed agenda of skipping over all jazz history since Miles Davis’ second great quintet from the mid-1960s, there is conviction behind it. This doesn’t exactly wow or thrill me, or even surprise me. I still have to admit that this is a good album.