[JPL] A Pianist’s Love Note to a Noteworthy Voice

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 11 19:27:56 EDT 2007

September 9, 2007
A Pianist’s Love Note to a Noteworthy Voice 
QUITE a few years ago,” the pianist Herbie Hancock
said recently, “Joni gave me a watch.” He was
referring to Joni Mitchell, the subject of his elegant
album “River: The Joni Letters,” due out on Verve on
Sept. 25, the same day as Ms. Mitchell’s “Shine.” 

The watch bore an inscription, “He Played Real Good
for Free,” that acknowledged a history of
collaboration on benefit concerts. “Now, to show you
how little I really knew about Joni,” Mr. Hancock
added, “I didn’t know that was the title of one of her
songs.” (In fact the line is from a song called simply
“For Free.”)

That familiar-yet-unfamiliar perspective flows through
“River,” which was produced by Mr. Hancock with Larry
Klein, Ms. Mitchell’s ex-husband and longtime creative
partner. The album doesn’t enact an admiring
arm’s-length revision, like “A Tribute to Joni
Mitchell,” the fine compilation released on Nonesuch
this spring. What it delivers is an intimate
reinvention issuing from someplace deep inside the

Mr. Hancock plays acoustic piano throughout, and Wayne
Shorter, another friend of Ms. Mitchell’s, plays
saxophones. They are joined by the bassist Dave
Holland, the drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and,
periodically, the guitarist Lionel Loueke. On roughly
half the album they play as a jazz combo, casting a
sparse and enigmatic illumination. 

They also support a handful of vocalists, ranging from
the wistful young singer-songwriters Corinne Bailey
Rae and Norah Jones (on “River” and “Court and Spark”
respectively) to the spectral poet-songwriter Leonard
Cohen (“The Jungle Line”). Tina Turner takes a
mesmerizing turn on “Edith and the Kingpin,” while the
Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza offers a
respectful “Amelia.” 

Then there is Ms. Mitchell herself. “If she’s not a
jazz singer, I don’t know who is,” Mr. Hancock said.
“Her phrasing on ‘Tea Leaf Prophecy’ is unbelievable.”

Not that Ms. Mitchell had to prove her jazz
credentials to Mr. Hancock, whose guest-laden 2005 pop
album, “Possibilities” (Hear Music), has sold 388,000
copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. “River”
celebrates an artist with an evasive relationship to
genre. It takes one to know one, as they say. 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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