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Joni Mitchell comes back with jazz and the Persuasions   Print

by Ron Shapella
Salem Sunbeam
August 31, 1979

PHILADELPHIA - Joni Mitchell's concert Tuesday night at the Robin Hood Dell West was an exquisite treat for jazz fans and those who didn't mind seeing the poet-singer-songwriter explore new material.

For those who awaited a golden oldies night by Mitchell, well, you were probably dissapointed.

But to want Mitchell to stagnate herself with songs now five to 10 years old is extremely selfish, especially when she obviously has so much more to offer.

Mitchell started the set with what was her first big hit - "Big Yellow Taxi." But with the exception of "Free Man In Paris" later on and two other songs, the rest of the concert was devoted to newer jazz numbers.

While strumming along on guitar, Mitchell led her fourpiece band with fine jazz vocals, exhibiting a command of a wide vocal range and assortment of her own improvised inflections.

Some consider Mitchell's presence to be magic. One verifiable account wich may lend truth to the impression developed after a series of concerts from 1974-1976.

Each year, Mitchell visited the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for three to five nights of sold-out performances. The concerts always happened to take place in March and were always preceded by at least a week of the most blustery, frigid weather.

But when she came to town each year uncannily the weather changed. It became warmer by maybe 20 degrees. The sun came out, birds sang, the whole bit.

As soon as she left Philly after her series of concerts the weather returned to late winter bluster.

This is a true story. Skeptics may consult the farmers almanac and back issues of the Daily Planet. But the true magic was in being there and realizing what was happening.

Mitchell's stature as, perhaps, the premier female vocalist in the western hemisphere did not prevent her from leaving the stage frequently to let band go off on its own.

The structure of the show itself was most interesting, with each performer showcased in solo or in duet with another. Most notable was a freely improvised solo by the bassist, and a jam between bass, drums and guitar.

Opening the show were the Persuasions - a quintet of a capella singers from the streets of Brooklyn who have been producing the most beautiful vocal harmonies to be heard for the past two decades.

The Persuasions' singing is absolutely euphoric. There is no way to describe the emotion packed into each song they sing.

Lead singer Jerry (last name, Persuasion, I guess) has the best soul voice in the world-ever.

You can have David Ruffin, you can have - heaven help me - Smokey Robinson. This brother Jerry brings tears to your eyes.

From the time they start singing, the Persuasions make listeners want to get up and get down.

Much to the distress of the ushers, I imagine, the audience was encouraged to leave their seats and help the group sing up front.

But the Persuasions do not need help. After all these years, as Jerry proclaimed during the set, they "still ain't got no band."

And they'll never need one.

 

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