Willie Nelson and Jackie King, who’s probably better known in the jazz world than in country, have worked together off and on since 1984, when they collaborated on Angel Eyes and toured Japan. The San Antonio native has played guitar in Nelson’s road band for the last two years, during which time the title track of this CD has become a high point of Willie’s set.
Nelson appears as singer-guitarist on only half of the ten standards on The Gypsy, but King’s own brand of western jazz should have no problem connecting with open-minded country fans. Though he can play with a quiet, contemplative kind of solitude and intimacy (as on “Once In Awhile”, dedicated to another of his running buddies, the late Doug Sahm), his specialty is the polished, meticulously shaped line that seems to skitter all over the place but always remains under his control.
Willie’s own bluesy/twangy licks provide icing on that cake when they play together, but his singing alongside King’s fast and fiery improvisations is what’s most extraordinary. At the beginning of “My Window Faces The South”, Willie’s stylistic calling-card of singing just behind the beat is abandoned while he sings just ahead of it to keep up with King; his phrasing then grows more elongated as the song progresses.
“San Antonio Rose” starts with both men at a dead sprint, and then they reshape the song entirely, with Willie spitting some words out so quickly he appears to almost swallow them, and stretching others out so far they threaten to snap, the emotion conveyed largely by the rising and falling of his voice, and the swing never less than relentless.
At times like that, you realize Willie will never tire of breaking the rules in his own peculiar way, and that he will always find a way to make it work.