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A bit of live musical history
on September 14, 2011
Some artists reach a point in their careers where you feel they have nothing left to prove. Wynton Marsalis has earned every accolade in the jazz world-nine Grammys in Jazz and classical music, and the first Jazz musician to win a Pulitzer prize for music ("Blood on the Field"}. Eric Clapton, of course, has been one of the top guitar gods for nearly five decades. Both of these accomplished musicians could coast at this point- something they have been criticized for in recent years. For this performance, live at Lincoln Center in April 2011, they made a bit of musical history.
When Marsalis and Clapton decided on this project, they went after the sound of an early jump-blues band with a New Orleans vibe. This enabled the duo to give themselves latitude in instrumentation. The band is based on King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band (where Louis Armstrong first gained fame), but with the addition of guitar and keyboards. This culminated in a sound respecting Trad Jazz while acknowledging the music of today.
The disc's opener, "Ice Cream" shows the group having a ball. Several members, including Marsalis sing the chorus in a fun fashion backing Clapton's lead vocal. In true Dixieland fashion, solos seamlessly follow each other. Victor Goines plays a lovely clarinet solo in "Joe Turner's Blues", followed by a very nimble Clapton. Hearing him in a Jazz setting is a real treat. The great Don Vappie plays some of the best banjo this side of Bela Fleck.
After "Kidman Blues", Clapton engages the audience rather humbly, telling how intimidated he was by so many schooled Jazz musicians. Clearly, he is the star of this show, and his playing is a perfect fit with the Marsalis band.
Reading the set list: do we need another "Layla"? This track is probably the biggest surprise on a disc filled with them. Clapton didn't plan on adding "Layla" to the show, but bass player Carlos Henriquez was insistent. Marsalis, Clapton and Goines all play engaging solos, and Clapton's voice just gets better with age. Along with pianist Dan Nimmer, long time Clapton collaborator Chris Stainton adds keyboards throughout the concert.
Taj Mahal is a surprise guest vocalist on the gospel standard "Just a Closer Walk With Thee". He also guests on "Corrine, Corrina"- a bonus track not included on the CD. Here he gets to show his considerable skills on the 5-string banjo, followed by Clapton, Marsalis and second trumpeter Marcus Printup. Stainton is featured on electric piano (this guy does not age).
Jazz at Lincoln Center is one of the most successful music projects to be recorded in recent years. Kudos to producers Marsalis, Clapton and Ashley Schiff Ramos for a great recording and to director Martyn Atkins for a fine DVD.