The last time Joni Mitchell made a double live album - 1974's MILES OF AISLES - she was still a folksinger. Nowadays, some people would say she was a jazz singer (though they'd get plenty of argument); others simply would call her an Artist, making them about as pretentious as her most recent studio album, the turgid MINGUS. Whatever she is, Mitchell has undergone some fundamental changes. SHADOWS AND LIGHT is an accurate and entertaining chronicle of just about all of them and it's also an opportunity to hear some good musicians out of their usual contexts.
The shape of her music has altered from the Carey and Chelsea Morning days. Her songs are at once more verbose lyrically and more static melodically; they're less defined, based more on mood than structure, more on modes than specific chord progressions. Her later material isn't all fascinating - not by a long shot. But it's different, and it's adventurous, and for that she deserves credit.
It's no surprise that songs from HEJIRA (five of them) dominate this package, for the former was, until now, the least mannered of Mitchell's new style. The remaining tunes on SHADOWS AND LIGHT come from five of her other albums: there's also Why Do Fools Fall In Love, a true oddity amidst all this poetry and deep thought. The title cut, a little known offering from a little known record (THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS), becomes a stunning a cappella centerpiece with the help of The Persuasions.
The band is a Who's Who of the new jazz: Jaco Pastorious on bass, Pay Metheny on guitar, Lyle Mays on keyboards, Mike Brecker on saxophone, and Don Alias on drums. (Joni plays electric guitar.) It's a looser, more improvisatory assemblage than Mitchell's last band, the L.A. Express, and that's what the music calls for. Pastorious is the dominant player, bouyant and propulsive; the others are less conspicuous, limiting themselves to little textural comments and a solo here and there. Only Alias doesn't fully cut it - a fine conga player, he is at best only an adequate trap drummer. Reports that he was the singer's boyfriend may explain his presence.