United We Sing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
Blue Engine Records
Comprised of recordings across the years 2003 – 2007 this collection showcases the always-sublime Wynton Marsalis Septet in a range of song settings, from a lurching, soul-drenched blues-makeover of Lenny Kravitz’ Are You Gonna Go My Way (unlikely but hugely winning) to covering Bob Dylan’s It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry with the man himself out in lead.
They can’t all be bangers of course, not when it’s moving between Natalie Merchant and John Legend, Audra McDonald and Jimmy Buffett but at every step of the way we feel the power and charm and skill of the arrangements and the band players. This is simply one of the world’s greatest groups – adept at almost any/every style. And even when backing the musical vasectomy that is John Mayer (I’m Gonna Find Another You) there’s plenty to, um, trumpet…
Willie Nelson’s Milk Cow Blues is a highlight, Lyle Lovett’s jazz spring across My Baby Don’t Tolerate is lovely, James Taylor on Mean Old Man and Carrie Smith’s blue-soaked vocal on Empty Bed Blues; all amazing. Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are superb too on I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.
Remember, these annual galas were one-off events, one-night performances, huge gatherings of talent that aimed to not only spread joy through the music but to raise funds for the center’s education program, so to enrich and continue the musical education of many and to ensure the spread of the joy of music. So for that fact alone these shows were vital and rewarding. But the best, collected here, makes for a fun listen, and more often than not it’s staggeringly great, whether it’s the Blind Boys of Alabama doing their shtick (The Last Time) or one of the last public performances by the late, great Ray Charles (I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town).
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