To say that Willie Nelson has been directly influenced by jazz is to state the obvious. Listen to the ever-reliable Stardust (Columbia, 1978) or check out any number of his latter-day releasesAmerican Classic (Blue Note, 2009), Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (Sony, 2016), My Way (Sony, 2018)to experience that truth in repertoire; give his meeting with Wynton Marsalis, Two Men With The Blues (Blue Note, 2008), a spin for further proof; or simply listen to the man sing or play any succinct, thematically-aligned solo on his trusty guitar, Trigger, to glean it from the notes and phrasing. Jazz runs deep in Nelson's soul, his very being, and vocalist Gabrielle Stravelli rides that influence in reverse on this smart tribute.
With a crack crew and some solidly inventive arrangements by bassist and musical director Pat O'Leary behind her, Stravelli sings her way into the heart via Nelson's art. Opening on "Lady Lucky/If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time," she works with swing, country sass, and swagger in equal proportions. Then it's on to a funky and bluesy "Three Days," with ample space for a horn happening; off to a tenderly expressive "Butterfly," where Scott Robinson's alto flute plays the titular role to perfection; over to "Time Of The Preacher/I Still Can't Believe You're Gone," which feeds on church and high drama; and up to "Stardust," set beautifully in play by Stravelli alone at center stage.
As the program continues to unfold, more artful twists and heartfelt helpings further reinforce the strength(s) of subject and interpreter. With "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," Stravelli blows the roof off the place with her bebop scat chops. In "Karma Medley" she finds and defines the ties that bind "Little Old Fashioned Karma," "Blame It On The Times," and "Nobody Slides, My Friend" with swinging and swampy abandon. Through a string-suffused "Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground" she displays poise while leaning on love and pain. And with an intimate "Always On My Mind," she gives us a touching parting gift with regret written all over it. Hearing Stravelli sing these songs provides a real picture of the full Nelson as well as confirmation of her own fine craftsmanship.
Track Listing: Lady Luck/If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time; Three Days; Butterfly; Time Of The Preacher/I Still
Can't Believe You're Gone; Stardust; Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys; Good
Hearted Woman; Karma Medley (Little Old Fashioned Karma/Blame It On The Times/Nobody Slides My
Friend); Somebody Pick Up My Pieces/Crazy; Nightlife; Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground; Always On
Personnel: Gabrielle Stravelli: vocals; Joshua Richman: piano, Wurlitzer; Pat O'Leary: acoustic bass, electric bass; Eric
Halvorson: drums; Art Hirahara: piano (3), Hammond B3 organ (4, 9); Scott Robinson: tenor saxophone,
alto flute; Evan Arntzen: alto saxophone; Jay Branford: baritone saxophone; John Allred: trombone; Jon-Erik
Kellso: trumpet; Rubin Kodheli: cello' Carol Gimbel: viola; Isabel Hagen: violin; Elena Moon Park: violin.
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