Herbie Hancock: Amelia

This song first appeared on Joni Mitchell's highly influential album Hejira and featured the distinctive altered guitar work of the singer-guitarist along with bass legend Jaco Pastorius. Here Herbie Hancock displays his wonderful arranging skills, which are second only to his compositional talents. Wayne Shorter steals the show, though, with beautifully phrased soprano saxophone lines that accentuate vocalist Luciana Souza's tenderness and vulnerability. Souza, the Brazilian-born Manhattan School of Music educator, shines on this track, providing shades of Joni Mitchell with little effort, sounding completely organic and natural. This track marvelously encapsulates the explorative mood of River: The Joni Letters.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)

This song originally appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1988 album Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, during a time when she had moved towards a more electric, pop sound. Here the song receives the jazz treatment on Herbie Hancock's 2007 tribute album, which won the Grammy Album of the Year award. Mitchell makes an appearance to aid in the reworking of her sultry number, which has a very laid-back vibe. The band is in wonderful form, with Wayne Shorter echoing Mitchell's vocal nuances on soprano sax. Mitchell shows why she was a jazz singer beginning in the 1970s, as her raspy, smoke-cured voice fits this rearrangement like hand in glove.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Edith and the Kingpin

Herbie Hancock, arguably the most successful crossover musician in jazz history, assembled an all-star cast for his 2007 album River: The Joni Letters. This song originally appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Tina Turner does a splendid job reinterpreting this cover with an extended use of vibrato. She almost sounds better than Joni on the original, but I won't be completely blasphemous. Lionel Loueke provides nice wah-wah textures beneath the vocals, while Hancock plays an extremely tasteful solo. Wayne Shorter brings the track together with his beautiful saxophone solo, adding the necessary ingredients to make this a must-have for fans of the artists involved.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Shemekia Copeland: Black Crow

Popular music has begged, borrowed and stolen from the blues over the years, but rarely pays back in kind. Yet blues music would benefit from a closer relationship with the more creative currents of pop-rock. Here Shemekia Copeland takes on a Joni Mitchell song, and shows what new dimensions emerge when a leading blues diva puts her personal stamp on a poetic pop song. Joni Mitchell's compositions are notoriously resistant to "cover" versions—although many have tried—because her original statements of these songs are so married to her idiosyncratic vocal delivery. Yet Copeland cuts through the difficulties, and unlike so many others, does not try to channel Mitchell's persona while interpreting her music. Shemekia has her own style and sound, and it commands the center stage whether belting out a big blues to the back row or, as in this instance, probing the emotional interstices in a winsome ballad.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Linx & the Brussels Jazz Orchestra: Black Crow

The name David Linx may hardly register on the minds of American jazz fans, but that is their deficiency, not his. This Belgian singer has been building an outstanding body of work for many years, distinguished by his remarkable voice, interpretive skills and emotional honesty. He can sing, scat or even - as on "Black Crow" - dish out a fast-talking rhythmic monologue. On the Changing Faces CD, he joins forces with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, and their reworking of this Joni Mitchell song is fresh and invigorating.

February 14, 2008 · 1 comment

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Karrin Allyson: All I Want

Allyson livens up Joni Mitchell's ode with a lively Jamaican beat, courtesy of Gil Goldstein's overheated imagination -- the same mastermind behind the accordion version of Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away." What's next? A salsa rendition of Nick Drake? A Strauss waltz in 5/4? But this stop-and-start groove grows on me with each repeated listening. Hidden in the interstices of Joni Mitchell's Blue album are hints of island life that the rest of us missed. The wind was blowing from Africa, and all that jazz. Allyson picks up on these bohemian themes and brings them to the forefront. She's playing this one for fun, and I can practically see the band balancing colorful rum cocktails with tiny umbrellas on their amps.

December 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: A Case of You

No singer currently active is better than Krall at these oh-so-slow ballads, where she manages to expose every raw nerve end hidden in the melody and the lyrics. She almost sounds as if she is secluded by herself in some quiet nook, singing only to soothe herself. The jazz world with its ballsy, macho culture, hardened in a century of jam sessions, is almost too hostile a soil to support such delicate blossoms. But somehow Krall not only survives, but rises to a high degree of fame. Finally, something is going right in the music world! Joni Mitchell's confessional song is a perfect match for this singer, and she rises to the occasion. You can sense the quiet electricity in the hushed audience. They know that they are hearing something special. You will too.

December 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Ian Shaw: A Case of You

It's still way too hard to find Ian Shaw's music. This CD is only available as an expensive import here in the US, and no one thinks to offer a download. In fact, every Shaw CD in my collection had to be shipped across the big pond. Such a shame! Ian Shaw is the best vocalist you've never heard. When I first encountered him at Ronnie Scott's, I became a believer on the spot. Shaw has it all -- great range, radar ears, and real emotional commitment to the songs he sings. He is especially skilled at taking contemporary pop material and jazz-i-fying it without lessening the jazz component or diluting the original vitality of the music. "A Case of You" is not an easy composition to tackle. Joni's words have a quirky way of moving across the beats, and you can easily can get lost in the bar -- especially when you sing the line in the first chorus about getting lost in the bar. (If you don't know the lyrics you're saying huh at this point.) But Shaw puts on this song like a comfy robe he has been wearing for years. A case of you? I'll order two cases. Let's hope they don't fall in the pond.

December 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock (featuring Norah Jones): Court and Spark

The ingredients here are provocative: Joni Mitchell's poetic composition, Norah Jones' remarkable voice, Wayne Shorter's angular soprano sax, Herbie Hancock's modern jazz keyboard conception. But each of these individuals has such a distinctive and uncompromising style, we wonder if they can mesh. No need to fear. Hancock's tribute CD, River: The Joni Letters is a grand artistic statement, with everybody shining. Norah Jones takes on a darker, huskier tone, and offers one of the most authoritative jazz interpretations of a Mitchell composition I have heard to date. Hancock is lyrical in his comping behind Jones, but when Shorter enters, he rumbles and clashes and pushes the harmonies to the brink . . . and beyond. Norah returns in majestic form, and briefly insists on decorum. But Hancock will not be held back and insists on adding his spark to Norah's court. The pianist takes off on the wings of Scriabin and Prokofieff, crafting a remarkable solo, edgy and unsettled. Jones comes back once again, unperturbed, her voice full of drama. But the coda belongs to Wayne and Herbie who coo and whisper. Seven-and-a-half minutes of aesthetic rapture, but (as it says on the shampoo bottle) use and repeat as necessary. Trust me, you'll find it necessary.

December 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock (with Corinne Bailey Rae): River

I love jazz and I love Joni . . . but I get nervous when they are mixed together. Joni Mitchell's idiosyncratic delivery is already so jazzy, that it is hard enough just singing it straight. Trying to jazz up these songs further is like adding more cayenne pepper to grandma's prizewinning chili. As I have always said, nobody sings Joni better than the diva herself. But Corinne Bailey Rae makes me reconsider. This is the best version of "River" I've heard since that rude classmate drew a mustache on the cover of my Blue LP back in the Nixon era. Rae sings with sweet, almost girlish forthrightness, and just the right touch of melancholy. Hancock, Shorter, Holland and Colaiuta provide thoughtful accompaniment (albeit in a different studio on another continent) for a richly layered performance in which every phrase and micro-rhythm is perfectly placed.

November 28, 2007 · 1 comment

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