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Joni Mitchell’s musical territory still just-this-side-of-jazz Print-ready version

by Brian Brennan
Calgary Herald
October 25, 1980
Original article: PDF

Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light (WEA). When folk singer Joni Mitchell first ventured into jazz on the [sic] Hissing Of Summer Lawns album, she admitted she was "dog paddling around in the currents of black classical music."

Now, after four more albums---including a brave and flawed tribute to the late Charles Mingus---Mitchell has reached the point where she can do the breast stroke, so to speak. But she still doesn't know how to dive.

More precisely, she still doesn't know how to jump into a tune and phrase with the spontaneity of an Ella Fitzgerald or a Sarah Vaughan. She still puts most of her emphasis on lyrics, whereas jazz tends to stress other musical values. Instead of improvising, she embroiders.

The double album was recorded in Santa Barbara last September, while Mitchell was touring in support of her Mingus LP. Four of the 14 cuts are from Hejira---her lonesome highway album---three are from Mingus, two are from Hissing, two are from the days when her songs were still being recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, two are instrumental solos, two are new and one, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, was first recorded by Frankie Lyman [sic] and the Teenagers.

That's quite a variety of material but I'd trade it all for another LP like Court and Spark, her most powerful album of the 1970s.

Too much of this one is directed at the intellect rather than the emotions, and only the interaction of Mitchell's voice and the marvellously eloquent bass of Jaco Pastorius takes it out of the realm of the musically prosaic.

Much of the album is based on Mitchell's peculiar notions for the advancement of the "popular song" which call for experiments with alienating combinations of dissonances. These would be easy enough to take if she were Cecil Taylor or Archie Shepp and knew where the music was going. But she's out of her depth in these murky musical waters.

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Added to Library on May 2, 2021. (227)

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