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Joni Mitchell's jazz experiences Print-ready version

A box set brings together her albums from the second half of the 1970s

by Sylvain Siclier
le Monde
June 23, 2024
Original article: PDF

Translated by Vincenzo Mancini

Since the month of October 2020, two series of box sets, supervised by the Canadian singer, pianist, guitarist, songwriter, composer and painter, dedicated to her musical work, have been marketed under the generic name of Joni Mitchell Archives. One brings together unreleased songs, drafts of songs, other completed ones, different versions, full concerts or excerpts. Three volumes have already been published, 1963-1967, 1968-1971 and 1972-1975. The other one offers reissues of Joni Mitchell's remastered studio or live albums, in a cardboard sleeve and brought together in a box decorated with a painting by the musician herself.

Here it is a new release, the third one, in this series of reissues from the "The Definitive Albums" collection, the continuation of the ones produced by Asylum Records, during the period 1976-1980. These include Hejira (November 1976), Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (December 1977), Mingus (June 1979) and the live double album Shadows and Light (September 1980). In those years, Joni Mitchell evolved more openly towards an "experimental" form, compared to her folk beginnings, at the end of the 1960s, and to the pop and jazz contributions of the early 1970s.

In Hejira, she plays with jazz musicians, with whom she had already collaborated, the guitarist Larry Carlton, the drummer John Guerin, the bassist Max Bennett. She abandons the use of synthesizers from the previous album The Hissing of Summer Lawns (November 1975). And she builds a complementary musical relationship with bassist Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987) - who had just joined the jazz fusion group Weather Report - , present on four of the nine compositions. The intersections of her vocal diversions with the aerial playing of Pastorius, letting harmonics flow, are an enchantment, more particularly in Coyote and Hejira.

With Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, Pastorius is the only bassist, in majesty. Originally published as a double album - here, it consists of one CD - , this record, characterized by a fine work on atmospheres, begins with Overture - Cotton Avenue, interlacing acoustic guitars played by Joni Mitchell, her remote voice first, Pastorius who seems to improvise, and the progression towards the swing suppleness of jazz. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter (1933-2023), then with Weather Report, intervenes in Jericho and Paprika Plains, a long piano piece, with additions of strings arranged by Michael Gibbs. Percussionists Don Alias, Manolo Badrena and Airto Moreira have free rein for The Tenth World.

Inspired improvisations

Joni Mitchell will then push her relationship with jazz and its musicians even further in the Mingus album. This is a collaboration with double bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus (1922-1979), who composed several themes for Joni Mitchell - three here, including The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines, with a wind section, and the superb A Chair in the Sky, for which she writes the lyrics. She evokes Mingus with her own song God Must Be a Boogie Man, and writes lyrics for one of Mingus' most famous themes, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (1959).

We hear, here and there, the voice of Mingus, who does not play on the album. He died on January 5, 1979, while the recording sessions were not finished. Pastorius, Shorter and Alias ​​are there, joined by pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Peter Erskine and percussionist Emil Richards. This "supergroup" is entirely devoted, in this enchanting record, to the inspired improvisations, the voice of Joni Mitchell and the celebration of the music of Mingus.

A 1979 summer tour accompanied the release of Mingus. With a different band, but equally high esteemed jazz musicians, guitarist Pat Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mays and saxophonist Michael Brecker. And Pastorius, Don Alias ​​on drums. A concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, in September 1979, was selected for Shadows and Light. There are tracks from the Mingus album and the two previous ones and some returns to songs from further afield. The fertile impregnation of jazz in Joni Mitchell will not have the same importance in the rest of her career.

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Added to Library on June 25, 2024. (462)

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