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If you want to put your music into compartments, it might be hard to cozy up to a "jazz" CD getting tight with the tunes of "country" icon Willie Nelson. But smart music lovers throw the labels down the man hole, and maybe remember that none other than Miles Davis counted himself a Nelson fancheck out the six takes of the tune "Willie Nelson" on The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (Columbia Records, 2003) boxed set.
Enter trumpeter/flugelhornist Thomas Marriott, with Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson.
Marriott and the band take on a couple of Nelson's best known compositionsthe 1961 Patsy Cline hit "Crazy," and the Nelson-recorded "On the Road Again" (is there a person alive who hasn't heard those tunes?), along with a bunch of lesser-known gems. But if you're expecting understated, subtle country flavors, think again. The sound has a distinctly modern and often brash tone, thanks in no small part to the three members of the under-recorded Matt Jorgensen + 451 ensemble: drummer Jorgensen, saxophonist Mark Taylor, and keyboardist Ryan Burns. Especially Burns, who switches from the acoustic piano mode of his Tree-O (Odd Bird Records, 2007) in favor of some serious musical adventurousness with his Fender Rhodes and Moog synthesizer.
The opener, "Phases & Stages, Circles and Cycles" pulses to life on Geoff Harper's slow bass throb leading into a rhythm that sizzles behind Marriott's echoing horn, giving way to Taylor's cool, sweet nuances on soprano sax before Ryan Burns splashes neon colors and gleaming metallic sounds around.
The disc closes with "On the Road Again," probably Nelson's most familiar melody. Marriott and company change the original's quiet country charm into an expansive, lush, electric wash of sound that seems as if it could have been issued from the underbelly of an alien spacecraft that has picked up an errant Willie broadcast out in space, and is now hovering in a starry sky, broadcasting its otherworldly renditions down to an awe-struck earthly crowd.
And of course there's "Crazy." The band begins simply, gently, reverently, before things fall apartthe horns and keys sounding like misfiring neuronscrazy.
This set of eleven Willie Nelson songsdone up in a quite adventurous jazz modeis an unusually fine and original listening experience.
Track Listing: Phases & Stages, Circles and Cycles; Everywhere I Go; Write Your Own Songs; You Wouldn't Cross the Street (To Say Goodbye); Blame It On the Times; I'm Building Heartaches; The Great Divide; Crazy; Time Slips Away; One In a Row; On the Road Again.
Personnel: Thomas Marriott: trumpet & flugelhorn; Mark Taylor: saxophones; Ryan Burns: Moog synthesizer, Fender Rhodes; Geoff Harper: Bass; Matt Jorgensen: drums.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.