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Jazz Hands: Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell say Yahoo!   Print

by Chris Barton
Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2008

Say what you will about Herbie Hancock's controversial Grammy win, but there is no arguing with a man who steps onstage rocking a wireless keytar.

Buoyed by the plate-shifting bottom end of his jazz-funk classic "Chameleon" (carried by the powerhouse rhythm section of Vinnie Colaiuta and Marcus Miller), Herbie began his Yahoo! Live Set with the air of a giddy conquering hero, playing with such an undeniable sense of adventure and joy that all memories of his lovely but eyelid-fluttering "Joni Letters" were wiped away in a storm of actual, head-bobbing jazz.

Granted, when your back catalog includes classics such as "Cantaloupe Island," "Actual Proof" and the genre-crashing early MTV staple "Rockit," there's little chance of keeping a roof on any venue, even a vaguely production-oriented stage in Century City. Hancock even flexed his ability to stretch some boundaries by showcasing a reworked "Watermelon Man" that incorporated elements from his guitarist's (Lionel Loueke) time signature-melting composition "Seven Teens," which together sounded like an alien funk jam tumbling down a flight of stairs.

But the biggest ovation from the small, invite-only crowd came for who Hancock had hidden in the wings: Joni Mitchell.

Mitchell was dressed in a long, utterly insane but totally perfect dress bearing what could've been a scene from the Bhagavad Gita across the front, and her presence alone inspired a few audible gasps. While the set was missing the extra touch that her tiny, track-suited Jack Russell terrier brought to the rehearsal, Mitchell's three-song collaboration with Hancock's band revealed the biggest thing missing from the pianist's lauded tribute album: Mitchell herself.

The years may have taken the angelic lilt away from Mitchell's unmistakable voice, but the husky tone in its place added a new weight to "River," sounding like a slow-moving mix of molasses, honey and regret. Mitchell has always been closer in spirit to a jazz artist than her folk contemporaries, and Hancock proved her perfect foil as each instrument delicately lapped around the edges of her lyrics with a sound that was still true to the original, but constantly shifting and evolving. If only mainstream jazz as a whole could be so lucky.

(Yahoo! will air the Herbie Hancock / Joni Mitchell Live Set on April 1.)

 

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