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Listening post: Willie Nelson sings Gershwin, Logan Richardson's 'Shift'

Willie Nelson, “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin” (Legacy)

Bless Willie Nelson, he does like to do this sort of thing from time to time. If Ray Charles could make masterpieces by sojourning into Country and Western repertoire, why should Willie deprive himself of singing classics in the great American songbook? But that doesn’t completely explain what’s going on here.

Last year, Willie was given the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for popular song, the first country singer ever to receive it. A PBS special naturally ensued. So here, just to prove that Willie and George and Ira were a triumvirate waiting to happen, here they are even though they’d never been together for a whole record before. “Great music like that just does not go away,” says Willie. Of course it doesn’t which is why he’s here singing “But Not for Me,” “Embraceable You,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “I Got Rhythm,” etc.

The hard truth is that Willie’s country-fried vibrato at the age of 80 may well be one of the friendliest of recorded sounds but it doesn’t exactly suit steak-and-martinis music. The Gershwins wrote great music but it’s not exactly ribs-and-beer-and-weed music, you know?

2.5 stars (out of four)


Logan Richardson, “Shift” (Blue Note)

Here is one of the more exciting major debuts to come along in a while. Alto saxophonist Logan Richardson lives in Paris much of the time so he’s not hugely known here despite recording since 2009. This is his first for Blue Note with a band as formidable and canny as you’ll encounter these days – drummer Nasheet Waits and pianist Jason Moran, both of whom have employed Richardson in their own groups, as well as bassist Havish Rhagavan and, get this, Pat Metheny. Now there’s a quintet to get anyone’s attention even before you sit down to listen.

When you do, you’re riveted. The free rhythmic foundation of Waits is what makes this so arresting. But it doesn’t hurt either that pianist Jason Moran plays so much percussive and expressionist dissonance and that Metheny does so many electronic guitar arias. What’s brilliant here so often is a kind of three-tiered rhythmic counterpoint, where Richardson’s post-bop lines, Moran’s jagged offshoots and Waits’ free-drumming are co-existing with fascinating interdependence that’s nothing at all like bop or post-bop.

And when Richardson and Metheny improvise together in counterpoint, this is jazz and blissfully new as it claims to be and yet traditional in its heat and ferocity. A terrific record.

4 stars (out of four)

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