The next live set on our Christmas list comes from our favorite pop-folk songstress gone jazzy, Joni Mitchell. Actually, it's interesting that Joni's other live double album, "Miles of Aisles" was recorded with sax player Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, some prominent jazz rockers at that time. On this one, called "Shadows and Lights [sic]" on Asylum records she hooks up with some of today's giants of jazz: guitarist Pat Metheny, Weather Report bassist Jaco Pastorius, and Brecker Brother Mike on saxophone.
Much was made of Mitchell's association with jazz legend Charles Mingus, who wrote the music for her last album while terminally ill. The album, entitled "Mingus" raised eyebrows of many who thought a collaboration between a young white female pop star and an old black jazz musician to be quite a strange spectacle. However, Joni fooled them all. She always kind of sang around a melody with that sing-song style of hers, so a little vocal improvisation wasn't too far out of line for her. On this live album recorded last summer in Santa Barbara, California, she swings back and forth between the jazz of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and rockers, (especially a cute little "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" with the original Persuasions, no less). In between there are some new arrangements of old Mitchell standards like "Free Man in Paris". Metheny and bassist Pastorius, whose work with Joni goes back to 1977's "Hejira', add some interesting jazz touches throughout.
Things go a little sour only when Joni tries to improvise too wildly (especially on Mingus' "Dry Cleaner from Des Moines") or goes bananas, like on the weird vocal over percussion accompaniment on "Dreamland". Unfortunately, she doesn't have the vocal range or musical background to succeed with these.
The diverse somewhat uneven performance here makes "Shadows and Light" an interesting, transitional record. Although what Mitchell is doing now is not popular with many of her old fans, it has opened her up to a whole new audience and record buying public. The music on this album may be a prototype of future pop music trends.
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