Joni Mitchell is treading a fine line. In an attempt to remain true to herself and explore new musical avenues, Mitchell has suffered somewhat commercially and critically over the past few years.
It was with "Court and Spark" in 1974 that Mitchell first began experimenting with jazz by using Tom Scott and the L.A. Express on her album. By the time "Mingus" was released last month, it became evident that she had taken a plunge into jazz.
AFTER FIVE years of concerts canceled for various reasons, Mitchell returned to Denver and to Red Rocks Amphitheater Sunday night to perform a variety of music ranging from folk to jazz. She will give a second concert there Monday night.
Basically Mitchell kept to her more recent material throughout the evening, with three songs from "Mingus," five from "Hejira," and two each from "Court and Spark" and "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns." Her lone nod to earlier days came at the beginning and end of the show.
Several musicians from the backup band were featured in solos:
saxophonist Michael Brecker, bass player Joe [sic] Pastorius and percussionist Don Alias.
FOR AN ENCORE, Mitchell returned to the stage with just her guitar and sang her ode to the Woodstock festival, which has its 10th anniversary this month.
"Woodstock" to "Mingus" is a long journey and Joni Mitchell has done an excellent job of remaining fresh and honest to herself throughout the years. Record sales in recent years seem to indicate that many persons would prefer her to remain in the folk mold. Had she satisfied these fans, she probably would have faded with the years. Instead, she has chosen to be bold and experimental at each turn.
"MINGUS" GOES so far into jazz that the traditionalists probably won't enjoy it at all, and Denver rock radio stations have given it negligible air play because it doesn't fit the mold.
But the Red Rocks audience reacted positively to Mitchell's new material leading one to suspect that Denver may be ready to listen to more of Mitchell's new music.
And if "Mingus" fails to gain the critical or commercial acclaim of past projects, Joni Mitchell almost certainly will continue to experiment and seek out new ways to express herself that will be fresh and alive.