With the dazzling aplomb of an idea whose time has come, Travelogue, the long-awaited new Joni Mitchell double CD release on Nonesuch Records, re-imagines twenty-two essential selections from the trove of this legendary artist’s expansive repertoire. Set in gorgeous soundscapes courtesy of a 70-member London-based Orchestra, a twenty-voice choir and a select cast of special musical guests, this resplendent offering features Joni Mitchell in some of the most resonant and revealing performances of her career.
It’s an enterprise that underscores several already well-established facts from an entirely new, and aesthetically audacious, perspective. First and foremost: the songs of Joni Mitchell endure. With material that reaches back to 1970, including such classics as “The Circle Game” and “Woodstock” (from Ladies Of The Canyon) through such mid-90’s milestones as “Sex Kills” and “Borderline” (from Turbulent Indigo), and a full spectrum of artfully chosen tracks in between, Travelogue is a superb tutorial on songwriting that survives and thrives in any number of musical contexts.
Travelogue also proves conclusively that Joni Mitchell has entered into a new and richly nuanced phase of a career already marked by constant creative evolution. This latest metamorphosis began to take shape with 2000’s Both Sides Now, a torch singing homage that also matched a full orchestra to her evocative and richly textured vocals in a tour de force that proved nothing less than a revelation to both her newly-minted and long established fans. Travelogue conclusively consolidates Joni Mitchell’s reputation as an artist for the ages. One of the most powerful singers and songwriters of the modern era, she has fashioned a body of work which has influenced going on three generations of aspiring musicians and songwriters. Yet, from the abundant evidence of Travelogue, it remains an indisputable fact that there is no more gifted an interpreter of the music of Joni Mitchell than Joni Mitchell.
Aiding in this ambitious recasting of a repertoire highlighting both hidden treasures and certified hits is a phalanx of A-list collaborators beginning with co-producer Larry Klein. Another indispensable collaborator is arranger and conductor Vince Mendoza, whose work on Travelogue elevates his longstanding creative partnership with Joni to a whole new level. The same could well be said for such stalwarts as drummer Brian Blades, keyboardist Herbie Hancock and saxman Wayne Shorter. It’s an impressive creative complement rounded out by the likes of Billy Preston on the mighty Hammond B-3, bassists Larry Klein and Chuck Berghofer; Plas Johnson on tenor sax, Kenny Wheeler, flugelhorn, and percussionist Paulinho DaCosta.
This powerhouse ensemble anchors the magisterial splendor of the orchestra in an inspired selection of some the artist’s most exquisite melodies, creating a richly textured musical tapestry against which her lyrics find lush and lustrous new meaning. Travelogue is, in short, a tour de force by an artist working at the very height of her expressive powers.
One of the great pleasures of Travelogue is, in fact, the way in which it refashions our perceptions of many of the milestones that brought Joni Mitchell to these very heights. The tune stack of the double disc is, in itself, a travelogue of sorts, tracing a musical journey to the sweeping vistas of this present destination. It’s a journey that began nearly three decades ago, with such landmark releases as Song to a Seagull, Ladies Of The Canyon, Blue, For The Roses and Court And Spark. Key tracks from those albums, including the above mentioned “Woodstock” and “The Circle Game,” as well as “The Dawntreader,” “For The Roses,” “Judgment Of The Moon And Stars (Ludwig’s Tune),” “Trouble Child,” “Just Like This Train” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” provide a familiar point of departure even as they are recast in Travelogue’s thrilling new musical milieu. From 1976’s pioneering stylistic departure, Hejira, comes the song of the same name and the standout cuts “Amelia” and “Refuge Of The Roads.” Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (’77) yields “Otis And Marlena” and from the exuberant jazz fusions of 1979’s Mingus, “God Must Be A Boogie Man.” Culled from Joni’s seminal 1982 album Wild Things Run Fast are a quartet of memorable selections, “You Dream Flat Tires,” “Love,” “Be Cool” and “Chinese Café /Unchained Melody,” while more recent material includes “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” (based on a poem by W.B. Yeats) and “Cherokee Louise” from 1991’s Night Ride Home, and three tracks from ‘92’s epochal Turbulent Indigo: “The Sire Of Sorrows” (Job’s Sad Song from The Old Testament), “Sex Kills” and “Borderline.”
It’s a repertoire of almost encyclopedic range, yet among the many accomplishments of Travelogue is the way in which it elicits new meaning and fresh connections from this wealth of music. It is not simply the glorious orchestral accompaniment that unites these songs into a single, breathtaking listening experience, but a vocal performance that stands as one of Joni’s most potent and persuasive.
The album was recorded earlier this year at Sir George Martin’s Air Studios in London. Acclaimed filmmakers Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging; Grace of My Heart- for which Joni composed the song “Man From Mars”; Things Behind the Sun) and Alistair Donald (Wingspan) were invited to document these historic sessions and the post-production in Los Angeles. The resulting hour-long documentary, tentatively titled Circle Game: The Making of Joni Mitchell’s Travelogue, offers an intimate look at Joni’s creative process and includes exclusive interview footage with her and some of the other legendary artists participating in the project. It also documents some of the unexpected challenges of making the album such as a studio fire that nearly destroyed the master tapes. The film has been submitted to the Sundance Film Festival for possible screening in early 2003.
Also planned for Spring 2003 is the definitive biography on Joni Mitchell from PBS’s acclaimed American Masters series. For the first time, Joni Mitchell has agreed to participate in a full-scale film of her life and work. The 90-minute film, AMERICAN MASTERS Joni Mitchell: Penitent of the Spirit (w/t) is a co-production of Thirteen/WNET New York and Eagle Vision, and will air nationally on PBS in May 2003. Directed by series creator and Executive Producer Susan Lacy and produced by Ms. Lacy and Stephanie Bennett, the film contains rare archival performance footage from Mitchell’s earliest appearances in 1966, historic audio recordings of never released material, home movies, her acting debut, a comprehensive photo archive, and interviews with the musician covering the span of her career – with candid conversations conducted expressly for her latest album. Confirmed interviews include David Crosby, Graham Nash, David Geffen, Larry Klein, Cameron Crowe, and Mitchell’s daughter Kilauren, her parents, Judy Collins, Stephen Holden, Eliot Roberts, Tom Rush and Herbie Hancock.
On Travelogue Joni Mitchell and company have redefined the very act of musical interpretation, creating a whole new way to listen to songs that have become part of the fabric of our lives.