"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot &" is how the evening with Joni Mitchell began recently at the Meriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. The opening number was "Big Yellow Taxi" from the 1960s. The date is important because Ms. Mitchell's music has undergone quite an evolution since those early days, and "Big Yellow Taxi" was atypical of the majority of songs performed. It was a good introduction, though, to a performance that proved Joni Mitchell's talent knows few boundaries.
It was more than two hours of musical expertise with no intermissions. Some of the first songs were from the mid '70s album, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns." These included "In France They Kiss On Main Street' and "Edith And The Kingpin." It was probably this album that convinced everyone Joni Mitchell was no longer strictly a folksinger. "Summer Lawns" musically embodied the jazz idiom and provided a strange bit of social comment in the lyrics. Ms. Mitchell has said "it was kind of a little novel about the dilemma of the housewife trapped in suburbia, staring at furniture that she never sat in; the description of alienated marriages." Since that time she has evolved within the jazz idiom. But maybe this isn't a fair statement as Ms. Mitchell feels "Pidgeonholes all seem funny to me. I feel like one of those lifer-educational types that just keeps going for letters after their name. I want full hyphenate: folk-rock-country-jazz-classics. So finally, when you get all the hyphens in, maybe they'll drop them all and get down to just some American music." So it goes.
In any case, Ms. Mitchell's current musical preference was introduced with "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." A classic of the late jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus and Mitchell.
"God Must Be A Boogie Man" was also performed with audience participation for the chorus. This work was another evolutionary step in that Ms. Mitchell wrote the lyrics and melody. As she explained, though, it still is full of Mingus' influence in that it is based on Mingus' autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. Ms. Mitchell related how "the title came from a conversation with his psychiatrist. Mingus turned to the psychiatrist and said, 'Do you believe in God?' the psychiatrist said, 'Of course I do' and Mingus said, 'But as a Bogie Man?' "She's still making social comments. The audience loved it.
No review of this concert would be complete without some comments about the band behind Ms. Mitchell. They are some of the best jazz-rock musicians today. Lyle Mays on keyboards, Pat Metheny on guitar (both have made excellent jazz-rock fusion albums together on ECM records), Mike Brecker on sax, Jaco Pastorius on bass, and Don Alias on percussion. (both Pastorius and Alias are also members of Weather Report.) Solos featuring each were numerous but the most memorable was a nine-minute electric bass solo by Jaco Pastorius. It was an amazing piece, using an echo rhythm, harmonic synthesizers, the floor, his belt, the energy of a football team, and a lot of talent. Especially noteworthy was his expertise in the upper bass registers which is difficult on an electric bass. As you might guess, the audience went wild.
Opening act was The Persuasions, the "Kings of Acapella," and it was quite congruent, considering Ms. Mitchell's obvious reverence for the human voice as an instrument. Their performance was both energetic and unusual. If you were close enough you could see sweat rolling off all five faces. Some lucky member of the audience even got a chance to sing with this renowned group.
It was a near sell-out crowd for both performances. The first night thunderous applause brought Ms. Mitchell out for two encores. There was "The Last Time I Saw Richard" from her personal feelings and experiences days and "Woodstock," which ended with Ms. Mitchell slowly walking off stage while still playing and heard for minutes while not visible. The second night, there were four encores.
The band and Ms. Mitchell's voice seemed perfectly complementary. Though her lyrics bear repeated listening, it is her voice that is still most impressive as an instrument itself. Her latest album is "Mingus" and of it she says, "I finally realized what I was looking for an integral relationship with the band. We all seemed to be one organism on this music. If you look at it, you'll see how entwined we are, and I thought that was a beautiful accomplishment." The same could be said of her concert.
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