Following on from their 2008 collaboration ‘Two Men With The Blues‘, Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson have joined forces once again – This time with Norah Jones for the release of ‘Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles‘.

Recorded live during a sold out 2009 performance at the Rose Theatre in New York, the album features strong instrumentation courtesy of Marsalis’ active quintet (tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson; alongside Nelson’s longtime sidekick Mickey Raphael on harmonica), and an equally strong choice of tracks showing a clear focus on the most emotionally charged tunes in Charles’ repertoire, including “Cryin’ Time” and “Hit The Road Jack”.

Marsalis described the set list as a ‘storyline about love’, commenting, “You fall in love, you get lost and busted, and then you try to come back”. This is clear from the moment the album kicks off with the brightly optimistic ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’. While Nelson’s unique offbeat vocals carry us briskly through this upbeat tune, you quickly realize that the song is very different to the original. The swing is heavier, the horns are more prominent, and every instrument gets a solo.

This is a theme throughout the entire album, which features new, original arrangements written by Marsalis and his team. While some tracks veer further from the original than others, they all maintain the key stylistic elements of Charles’ recording, making the album a highly tasteful and fitting tribute to the genius of Ray Charles.

The optimism in ‘Hallelujah…’ quickly gives way to sentimentalism in the second track ‘Come Rain or Shine’. Jones’ vocals lend a laid-back feel to the tune, which provide an added sense of authenticity to the walking ballad. This sentimentalism then gives way in the next song, ‘Unchain my Heart’, and the cycle goes on.

The album seems to flow effortlessly around the ‘storyline about love’. Perhaps it is easy to take this for granted, however it is clear that a lot of effort has gone into making this happen – and the resulting unique tribute album which manages to update Charles’ songs without distorting their original message is certainly well worth it.

The Jazz Line Rating - 4 Stars