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Play the Blues
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Performer Notes
  • Personnel: Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar); Wynton Marsalis (vocals, trumpet); Chris Crenshaw (vocals, trombone); Don Vappie (banjo); Victor Goines (clarinet); Marcus Printup (trumpet); Dan Nimmer (piano); Chris Stainton (keyboards); Ali Muhammed Jackson (drums).
  • Audio Mixer: Jeff Jones "the Jedi Master".
  • Liner Note Author: Wynton Marsalis.
  • Recording information: Jazz At Lincoln Center, New York. NY; World Alert Music, New York, NY.
  • Photographers: Julie Skarratt; Danny Clinch.
  • Arranger: Wynton Marsalis.
  • United by dalliances with purism as young men and an abiding love of classic blues and jazz, Eric Clapton and Wynton Marsalis are a more comfortable fit than it may initially seem. Both musicians are synthesists, not innovators, stitching together elements from their idols in an attempt to preserve the past while bringing it into the present, so their sensibilities are aligned and, in 2011, they're amenable to a partnership that explores their common ground. So, Clapton and Marsalis held a series of concerts at New York City's Jazz at Lincoln Center in April of 2011, the guitarist selecting the songs (apart from "Layla," performed upon the request of bassist Carlos Henriquez), the trumpeter picking the band and working up the arrangements, using King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band as his template yet finding room for piano and, of course, guitar. Clapton's choice of songs leans heavily toward the '20s -- so much so that the dip into postwar electric blues via Howlin' Wolf's "Forty Four" feels a bit of a shock -- and the arrangements are faithful to classic New Orleans jazz yet loose, never quite hidebound to tradition and finding plenty of space for every one of the players to roam; Clapton and Marsalis surely solo plenty, but so do trombonist Chris Crenshaw, clarinetist Victor Goines, and pianist Dan Nimmer. There's not much ego on display -- even the inclusion of "Layla" doesn't feel forced, thanks to Marsalis' inventive New Orleans funeral arrangement of this overly familiar tune -- but the joy is palpable and the chemistry natural. Compared to Wynton's duet albums with Willie Nelson, this is both more traditional and riskier, and compared to Clapton's latter-day duets with B.B. King and J.J. Cale, this finds the guitarist none too deferential. These are consummate musicians united by playing music they love, and their passion resonates so strongly it's hard not to enjoy Clapton and Marsalis playing the blues. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Professional Reviews
JazzTimes (p.47) - "As a vocalist, Clapton has aged like every bluesman hopes to, gaining grit and incorporating more gut into the attack. This is especially evident on 'Layla,' recast by Marsalis as a New Orleans dirge that swings during the solos."

Living Blues (p.51) - "The combination of Clapton's ringing B.B. King-inspired guitar and the at times polyphonic wails of Marsalis's horn section is emotionally overwhelming."

Mojo (Publisher) (p.100) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "This live at New York's Lincoln Center recording surprises from the very start when Clapton and his vintage jazz cohorts hurtle into Fred Waring's 1928 hokum hit 'Ice Cream' amid blazing banjo strums..."
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