Joni’s experiment

by Tom Priddy
Greenville News
August 12, 1979

If I were Charlie Mingus I'd love Joni Mitchell's new album, "Mingus" (Asylum).

But I'm not and I don't.

Mitchell's so-called collaboration with Mingus is a highly personal expression of tribute to the jazz great - like a private birthday greeting card, filled with recordings of his voice and of those he loved. But because of all those taped voices and dialogues it sounds more like a eulogy than a musical collaboration.

As a personal taped message it would have been a fantastic birthday present. The highest tribute one musician could give another. But as a record album, packaged and sold to the public...well, I don't know.

I'm uncomfortable reading other people's mail, and I'm uncomfortable listening to "Mingus." We're intruding into a private experience; eavesdropping on recorded voices that are not easily understood.

Ironically, Mingus himself was not able to personally receive Mitchell's gift. He died just a few months before the album's completion, and was not able to hear the total product, only the preliminary result of Mitchell's lyrics put to his tunes.

If Mitchell had chosen to concentrate only on adding words to Mungus' [sic] music or if she had attempted a more complete documentary the outcome might have been different. This way it succeeds as neither. There is not enough documentary to tell a story - you have to already know the Charlie Mingus story - and it's difficult to isolate the music from the dialogue to assess its merits alone.

The songs on "Mingus" continue in the direction of Mitchell's last album, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter." She is experimenting more and more with different forms of jazz, some successfully, some not. As usual, a melodic bass line is an important ingredient of the moody, sensitive music.

It took weeks for "Don Juan" to sink in, and even when it did it was my least favorite Joni Mitchell album. "Mingus" now takes that distinction.

I gave "Mingus" a similar time period, just waiting for something to happen. Her music eschews the standard pop formula, so you have to allow it to affect you in other ways.

But it still doesn't work for me.

As long as Joni Mitchell continues in this vein I will admire her creativity and support her individuality - but I won't enjoy her albums. And I doubt if many but the hardcore - which I used to be - will, either.

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