Thanks to legends, 'River' flows

by Steve Greenlee
Boston Globe
September 23, 2007

Joni Mitchell's development as a songwriter and singer was heavily influenced by jazz, and she has in turn become a minor force in the genre, as plenty of jazz musicians have covered her tunes. One of the more thoughtful appreciations of her work is pianist Herbie Hancock's new album, "River: The Joni Letters" (Verve), for which he enlisted two legends and longtime collaborators - saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Dave Holland - plus drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and guitarist Lionel Loueke.

Of the 10 tunes, eight were written by Mitchell, and the other two - Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and Shorter's own "Nefertiti," done here in a relaxed, waking-dream-state take, not at all like the version Hancock and Shorter recorded with Miles Davis in 1967 - were said to be important to her.

Six of the tunes feature guest vocalists: Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza, Mitchell herself, Leonard Cohen in a spoken-word duet with Hancock, and Norah Jones on a superb version of "Court and Spark" that becomes a three-way conversation with Hancock's harmonizing and Shorter's soul-lifting soprano sax.

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