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Down Beat
April 2003

***1/2

Listening to Joni Mitchell's elaborate reconsideration of a remarkable career as one of the nation's premier singer-songwriters is like eating high-grade, unsweetened dark chocolate. It's a rich, deep and powerful experience that demands an acquired taste. A mature Mitchell has drawn carefully from her songbook, balancing early classics with latter-day showpieces.

The sophistication of this big production is certainly breathtaking, and the orchestral arrangements by Vince Mendoza rise to match Mitchell's timeless tunes sometimes.

Adding a lavish orchestra to small group performances and displaying her jazzier impulses as a singer, Mitchell modifies some of her more challenging compositions like "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," and "Sex Kills," as well as an ornately beautiful interpretation of "For The Roses." Accompanied by longtime associates like saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock, Mitchell is unhesitating in this refined approach to her own body of work. The lady's voice has changed (deepened mostly) but is still a compelling instrument and her deliberate vocal approach yields many fine rewards. Still, this collection is often weighed down by the seriousness of the project and feels mannered when it should be free.

Let us not forget Mitchell's innate rapport with Charles Mingus, represented here by an angular version of "God Must Be A Boogie Man." The musicianship on these discs is consistently impeccable, but so highly structured that soloists like Shorter rarely open up. Still, wise-and-weary renditions of classics including "Hejira," "Refuge Of The Roads" and the exquisitely smart closer, "The Circle Game," are poignant and inspired. -Mitch Myers

Travelogue: Disc 1-Otis And Marlena; Amelia; You Dream Flat Tires; Love; Woodstock; Slouching Towards Bethlehem; Judgement Of The Moon And Stars; The Sire Of Sorrow; For The Roses; Trouble Child; God Must Be A Boogie Man. (62:24); Disc 2-Be Cool; Just Like This Train; Sex Kills; Refuge Of The Roads; Hejira; Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody; Cherokee Louise; The Dawntreader; The Last Time I Saw Richard; Borderline; The Circle Game. (64:41)

Personnel: Joni Mitchell, vocals; Brian Blade, drums; Chuck Berghofer, acoustic bass; Larry Klein, electric bass; Herbie Hancock, piano; Billy Preston, B-3 organ; Wayne Shorter, soprano saxophone; Plas Johnson, tenor saxophone; Kenny Wheeler, flugelhorn; Paulinho DaCosta, percussion; Orchestra arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza.

 

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