Culture

REVIEW: Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues

I got very excited when I learned, by chance, that Eric Clapton had a new album out. When I found that it was a collaborative effort with Wynton Marsalis and his jazz group at Lincoln Center, well, how could I resist?

I know. Eric Clapton and jazz? That has to go together like peanut butter and Kalamata olives, but it works, and I’ll tell you why. Jazz and blues are cousins from a long way back and you don’t have to look very far into the past to see the tie between jazz, especially Dixieland jazz, and the blues music on which Clapton cut his teeth as a young guitar player. The album is nothing like you’ve ever heard from Clapton. If you know Marsalis’ work, you know that he has spent the past few years as the de facto curator of jazz music in America. It’s no surprise that he recorded a Dixieland-style album that features Taj Mahal and Allen Toussaint. It is a surprise that he made an album like that with Eric Clapton.

They recorded the tracks during a benefit concert this past April at the Lincoln Center that was also filmed for a television special and that’s both a good and bad thing. The sound is not always ideal — often the vocals disappear into the instrumentation the way you get at a live concert. However, you do get all the rucks from the band (or sometimes the audience) when Clapton, Marsalis, or one of the other players lays down an incredible solo. This happens quite a lot on their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Forty Four”, which is a flat-out nasty piece of low-down blues.

The only song that doesn’t quite fit on the album, is the one that turned out the be the most delightful surprise. Clapton chose the entire set-list for the concert save one sing, which the band wanted to do — Clapton’s rock anthem “Layla”. He agreed to do it, but only if they could make it sound like it came from New Orleans. And so it does.

The performance of “Layla” is on YouTube and I embedded a copy of it in this post at my blog, The Sundries Shack. The solos alone are worth the price of the album, but you’ll get a lot more good music than just this one piece. It’s a solid album and I very much hope they collaborate together again.