I phoned Seattle trumpeter Thomas Marriott with just one question about his latest disc, Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson (Origin): Why Willie Nelson?
As if anticipating my question, Marriott reflected, "In jazz, we have a lexicon of songs?the repertory of standard tunes. Many of them," he added, "come from movies made in the 1930s. The repertory needs updating."
And why not with country songs? Aside from experimental music, I can't think of any other genre so damaged by easy clichés. The outsize cowboy hats, the big (and usually bad) hair, and visions of Bud Light?swilling fans who have never stacked bales of hay or slopped hogs (I did both growing up) belie the sophisticated construction and melodic richness of country music.
Having combed through Nelson's albums, Marriott agrees: "There's so much there. I picked tunes that would lend themselves to different treatments."
Crazy does much more than merely update Nelson classics such as "Crazy" and "On the Road Again." The trumpeter and his bandmates?bassist Geoff Harper, drummer Matt Jorgensen, saxophonist Mark Taylor, and Ryan Burns on keyboards?rebuild the songs entirely.
"Write Your Own Songs," begins with a rubbery synth line borrowed from Weather Report's "Black Market." But Marriott and Taylor heat up the tune into riotous, Dixieland-inspired polyphony; both solo simultaneously until guest keyboardist Wayne Horvitz unleashes an amazing ring-modulated solo that whoops and sizzles.
By contrast, "On the Road Again" opens with an annunciatory gong. While Burns's Moog warbles and wobbles in the background, Marriott drenches his trumpet in slow-motion echo. The result is a valedictory farewell as well as a hymn-like fanfare celebrating the rediscovery of music that is fresh and new.