Eric Clapton & Wynton Marsalis, Play the Blues: Live from Jazz At Lincoln Center

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Album Review: Eric Clapton & Wynton Marsalis, Play the Blues: Live from Jazz At Lincoln Center
by Brent Faulkner

The expectation when two legendary musicians come together to record an
album is that the musicianship is incredible. On Play the Blues: Live
from Jazz At Lincoln Center, that expectation is met and even surpassed.
Clapton’s vocal and guitar skills are unmatched while Marsalis’s
Dixieland Jazz styled arrangements are nothing short of breathtaking –
not to mention his virtuosic trumpet sound. While Clapton and Marsalis
are the main attraction, the musicians assembled by Marsalis shine just
as brightly as the headlining artists. Add Marcus Printup on trumpet,
Victor Goines on the clarinet, Chris Crenshaw on trombone, Dan Nimmer on
the keys, and Carlos Henriquez on bass, among others including guest
spots from Taj Mahal and you have nothing short of magnificence
epitomized. Play the Blues sho’ doesn’t disappoint, recreating the
Dixieland sound and blues idiom perfectly.

“Ice Cream” is a superb way to open the effort with Wynton recreating
the traditional Dixieland sound. Clapton’s vocals are edgy and
commanding, helping to shape the grandness of this cut. Chris Crenshaw’s
trombone solo is highly representative of the idiom and a high point,
but he certainly doesn’t out perform his highly talented contemporaries
(Victor Goines, Marsalis, Clapton), who all have superb solos as well.
The banjo is a nice touch as well. “Forty-Four” is more shocking as
Clapton vocally sounds edgier than he ever has. Clapton is more
commanding as a soloist as well on this cut, delivering nothing short of
a bluesy, potent punch. The consistency keeps going strong on “Joe
Turner’s Blues, “ which has an incredibly lazy blues feel. At times the
arrangement grows the slightest bit cacophonous, very much a part of
the lazy, traditional Dixieland sound. The piano playing (Nimmer) is
superbly executed here with a minimal ‘less-is-more’ approach working
fabulously.

“The Last Time” finds Wynton Marsalis showing off his virtuosity with a
fantastic solo early on. Trombonist Crenshaw again steals the show with
his convincing growling trombone sound (not to mention using the
plunger mute) while pianist Nimmer opts for a stride-piano approach
here. As great as “The Last Time” is, “Careless Love” is a showstopper
given its lazy, relaxed blues feel. The arrangement, filled with gospel
references and sporadic riffs from Clapton on guitar, is one of the
best of the album. Bassist Carlos Henriquez is allowed to show off with
solo passages, which is another high mark. “Kidman Blues” contrasts
“Careless Love” with a double-time, uptempo feel. The length is less
expansive, which is another plus after many songs approach the eight
minute mark.

“Kidman Blues” was impressive, but the sole track that is not from the
Dixieland Era, “Layla,” may be the valedictory cut from the album.
Wynton’s cacophonous take on Eric Clapton’s blues classic showcases some
of the best orchestration of Play the Blues. Clapton’s vocals are
strong and powerful and the overall change of pace is perfectly
articulated. “Joliet Bound” is less captivating, but still a high
watermark musicianship if nothing else. “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”
adds Taj Mahal to the mix and while it is another stunner, it’s twelve
minute plus length may be a bit much for the more casual listener.
Closing cut “Corrine, Corrina” is as solid as everything else without
eclipsing the very best.

Overall two legends meet and exceed the expectations (as they should) on
Play the Blues: Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center. While both musicians
are past the ‘peak’ of their careers – Marsalis is fifty and Clapton is
sixty-six, neither has lost their luster as innovative, extraordinarily
talented musicians. Play the Blues: Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center is
an album that no consummate blues or jazz fan should overlook. It is
nothing short of brilliance.

Brent Faulkner
The Urban Music Scene

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