Joni Mitchell has enjoyed a year of industry fans paying tribute to her, those whom she considers her "true peers", the artists who recognize the genuis of her work. Herbie Hancock has assembled a cast of players fit for the high bill of interpreting songs from an artist whose career has been a fluid exploration, much as Hancock employs a fluid sensibility to his arrangements on many of these classics.
Norah Jones opens the show with her rendition of " Court and Spark". It is a fine song in its own right; the only complaint may be that the immediacy of Joni's version is lost here. Composed in Canada, as a response to an actual experience, this song may have been better left off the list. When Mitchell speaks in first person, it's almost an impossible task for another to come in and half way rival the intense delivery, the plumbing of the depths that must occur when Mitchell sings the lyrics she has clearly lived.
Tina Turner purrs through "Edith and the Kingpin", making it the cover that it ought to be. This song demands either the original interpretation or an alternative that gets to the grit of the subject matter by sheer quality of voice. Turner was a perfect choice for this song.
Corrine Baily Rae is another highlight, singing " River" in a way that puts her stamp on the song, yet maintains the integrity of Joni's original release. Perhaps there is a bias on my part, with this being one of my all-time favorite Mitchell songs, but as noted in my review of this year's earlier Tribute, the version on that disc sounded reworked to the point that there were no longer vestigages of Joni left, although it sounded just like a James Taylor original would, leaving it a good song. However, on a tribute, that's far from the point. CBR does a much better job of synthesizing her sound with Joni's, making this the best cover of "River" I've heard.
The inclusion of some of Mitchell's favorite songs from other artists is an inspired choice. "Nefertiti" is always mentioned in interviews where Mitchell cites works that have moved her, so Wayne Shorter stepping in to lend this song, forty years after he helped bring it to life with Miles Davis himself, is a real treat. It is worth noting that the play list is heavily tilted toward material from " Hissing of Summer Lawns", a fact that is probably not coincidental. That was a work that deserved way more positive press than it received; with Hancock being a fellow innovator, it makes sense that he would enjoy giving some added exposure to those overlooked experiements. Leonard Cohen reading " The Jungle Line" is a bit bizarre, however, with him sounding like Vincent Price reciting a monologue. Again, this is a song that may have been better left untouched, or if included, having a reworking that retained the ethnic vibe of the original, as that was part of its charm.
Herbie Hancock is a kindred spirit with Joni Mitchell; they are both restless musicians, always in search of a new direction, inspired by beauty and truth. It is clear that he had the superior vision for a tribute to one of our most cherished talents. The continuity of the disc is a welcome departure from the one released earlier in the year, with the likely explanation being the stewardship of Hancock from conception to birth of this effort. Excellent tribute, with a cameo appearance by Joni herself on " The Tea Leaf Prophecy", an inclusion that carries extra poignancy with the passing of her mother this year, her muse for the song.