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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 5 May 2017
This is a superb album. It ticks every box - Herbie Hancock is a genius and these are re-interpretations of the wonderful Joni Mitchell's songs. I was really impressed by Tina Turner singing Edith and the Kingpin and Corrine Bailey Rae's cover of The River is exquisite.
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The line is drawn and this album has divided fans on both sides.

Hancock fans appalled; Mitchell fans outraged; the occasional satisfied inbetweenie.

Inevitable I guess. Not always a good idea to mess with mythology.

Someone always gets upset.

Ian Shaw took Ms Mitchell on in his 2006 release 'Drawn To All Things:
The Songs Of Joni Mitchell' and a very fine job he did too.

2007's 'A Tribute To Joni Mitchell' threw a motley ragbag of performers
into the fray with uneven results. Bjork, Prince and Annie Lennox to name
but three. Big risk. Good intentions. More travesty than tribute.

So to Mr Hancock's 2007 dance with The Diva - 'River : The Joni Letters'.
Herbie fans think it too soft, too pappy.
Joni's hardcore warrior army won't entertain anyone messing with the maid.

I'm a big admirer of both performers and I like it. In fact I really love it.

Hancock (piano), Shorter (saxes), Holland (bass), Colaiuta (drums), Loueke (guitar).
Now that's a pretty stellar line-up for starters. Mr Shorter, of course, having blessed
many of Ms Mitchell's finest compositions with his celestial breath.
The band plays like a dream. Co-production with Larry Klein is impeccable.

The individual vocal contributions are, truth be told, somewhat variable in quality.
I've always thought Norah Jones a little bland but she does her level best with opening
track 'Court and Spark' and does it no real harm.
Mr Hancock's reverential piano is here and throughout ethereally beautiful.

Tina Turner is a somewhat surreal choice but her take on 'Edith and The Kingpin'
is remarkably insightful and does not deserve the pasting given here by some listeners.

Ms Mitchell's own flirtations with the po-faced world of jazz
were, after all, also a bit hit and miss truth-be-told.

Corinne Bailey Rae's brave interpretation of 'River' is delightful.

Our Lady blesses the project with her magisterial presence on the sublime
'Tea Leaf Prophecy'. A canny reinvention and (surely?) an endorsement.

Luciana Souza is an inspired choice for 'Amelia' and Mr Shorter weaves his
mercurial magical threads in and around her warmly insightful performance.

Leonard Cohen : 'The Jungle Line'. If you don't get it you won't like it.
I consider it a masterstroke.

Elsewhere the instrumental 'interludes', especially 'Sweet Bird', display the
mind and hands of a true master still at the height of his powers.

Try not to be too put off by the strength of contradictory views and feelings expressed
within these pages and you may discover a work of true and honest beauty.

One question : For a man born in 1940 Mr Hancock is displaying very
few lines on his handsome brow. Just how are you doing that Herbie ?

Highly Recommended.
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on 19 November 2007
When the magnificent Ian Shaw collection of Joni Mitchell songs "Drawn to all things" appeared a couple of years ago, I thought the definitive set of Joni covers was now in place and that there was nothing more to say on the subject. However, it is a tribute to the quality of the writing that this cd works so well - that, and the fact that you have a top drawer set of musicians playing, with great taste and discretion, music they clearly adore.

Whoever came up with the idea of Tina Turner singing "Edith and the Kingpin" deserves a big medal; it works perfectly. Tina Turner brings a world-weariness to this terrific song and its as if we're looking at the scene through a different woman's eyes.

An excellent collection, go on, treat yourself!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 September 2015
I am not a true fan of either of these artistes but thought this sounded interesting enough to warrant the purchase – especially as it was voted ‘album of the year.’
This to me is ‘cocktail lounge’ music. It's lovely to listen to, clearly very professionally done and of course wonderful on the ear. However, to a neutral like me, much of it sounds rather the same. I accept that real jazz buffs would take more from it and me. I’m probably not going to play this for a while now but it is superb back drop music.! The songs are overly long IMHO in the main, and Leonard Cohen‘s oration of ‘Jungle Line’ did little for me.
Sorry but that’s how it grabbed me. 7/10 for me and a really nice listen. I certainly wouldn't put anyone off buying it for mood music.
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on 16 October 2007
As a Joni fan since I first heard Blue as a 15 year old (35 years ago), I've been enjoing a bit of a Joni-fest recently, what with Shine, the Tribute album, (the very very long-awaited and overdue remastered Court and Spark/ Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira trio still to come) and now this.

The playing is superb. Some of Herbie's best piano work, the incomparable Wayne Shorter, Vinnie Colaiuta doing his best supportive playing (and making a return to performing Joni's material) plus the musical bass of Dave Holland combine to create a truly atmospheric, sublime and interesting collection.

There is a bit of a problem though. Some of the vocalists chosen to contribute are, to say the least, a little suprising. Norah Jones does her best "Norah Jones", but adds little to what is one of Joni's best songs. Tina Turner's voice just rattles, and whenever I hear it just I can't get "Steamy Windows" out of my mind. Corrine Bailey Rae's take on River is simply odd - not because of her accent (I'm sure not many American listeners will notice the London style instead of her Leeds accent - and so what, because either accent would not have improved on her performance) but because her voice simply doesn't suit the arrangement. Despite all the fuss (and I did quite like her debut) she gives a weak vocal and seems oddly unable to evoke any real emotion from it.

Luciana Souza's vocal is a bit too pitchy (I know it's "jazz", but it's just not close enough......) and makes me feel uneasy when I listen to it.

I understand why they would want vocalists on the album - basically an all instrumental album wouldn't cop as much of an audience as one with vocals on - and it may be that Joni was going to do it but had to pull out due to her other commitments, but the choice of singers lets the project down. They may have brought with them their "generosity", "deft navigation", "humility" and "grace" but they haven't made this good album a great one.

I'll still give it 4 stars though, for the great combo playing and the subtle and interesting arrangements of some truly great songs.
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on 3 October 2007
Of course, music is all about personal taste but in the interest of balance I thought I'd contribute my thoughts on this album... Let me start by saying that I'm a Herbie hancock fan, particularly the early work on Blue Note (Maiden Voyage, Takin' Off etc.) but I've felt that in recent years he may have run out of ideas. I'm a huge Joni fan too, so decided this might be worth investigating.
How wrong I was...The only vocal of interest on this album is saved 'til last with Leonard Cohen's take on 'The Jungle Line' - I didn't particularly like it, but at least it was interesting. Norah Jones contributed little to a once great song (Court & Spark) but that was nothing compared to Tina Turner's take on 'Edith & The Kingpin' and the worst was yet to come. Quite why Corrine Bailey Rae adopted a 'mockney' accent for her performance of 'River' is beyond me, being as she's from Leeds!
The instrumental tracks fare slightly better but are at best, pleasant!
For a much more interesting album of Joni Mitchell interpretations, I'd recommend 'A Tribute To Joni Mitchell' by Various Artists (ASIN: B000NJXCG2) or try Joni's excellent new album 'Shine'.
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Herbie Hancock's River looks too good to be true. And so it turns out.

Hitherto I've generally avoided covers of Joni Mitchell songs, mainly because I've been for so long convinced that few people are able to improve on perfection. It would, as they say, be gilding the lily. A few exceptions come to mind: Matthew's Southern Comfort's Woodstock and Nazareth's This Flight Tonight, both of which I heard before Mitchell's, so they almost exist as different songs. CSN&Y make Woodstock sound as if it was written for them, which in a way I guess it was, and Cassandra Wilson's Black Crow is nothing short of sublime. Otherwise, nothing stands out.

But there are so many people on this record I totally revere, not least Hancock himself and Mitchell, of course, who sings on Tea Leaf Prophecy, I just had to take a listen. Unfortunately, somehow, the chemistry isn't right.

Norah Jones does her regular Norah Jones impersonation on Court and Spark, the opening song. I'm going to declare right here and now that I generally quite like the impersonation, even though I think she needs to find a new one, but here it doesn't work. It's just the wrong voice.

I first heard the original of the next song, Edith And The Kingpin, on a radio programme hosted by Joe Jackson. It was the first time I ever woke up to Mitchell as someone of lasting significance. But Tina Turner's interpretation is by contrast quite ephemeral. In one ear, out the other. Again, I have a ton of respect for Turner herself. But here she's working by rote, and some of the words just don't sound natural - "Sophomore jive" is sung as if they're words in a foreign language she has absolutely no understanding of.

Corinne Bailey Rae, track four, then manages to make River sound like a Christmas song, as if it's the new Jingle Bells. Lovely voice, but again totally wrong. Like most of the songs on Blue, Mitchell dug deep into her soul when she wrote River, and it rarely fails to leave me unaffected. This version is water off a duck's back.

It hurts me to say all this, of course, because these songs and most of the artists participating on the project inhabit the highest levels of my musical pantheon, but not even some capable tinkling on Hancock's keyboard, a fair degree of saxophone virtuosity from Wayne Shorter, and the appearance by the lady herself, can drag this collection anywhere near the Essential Listening zone.
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on 3 April 2013
Great interpretations of some of the best Joni Mitchell compositions. The best I believe is Tina Turner's rendition of Edith and the Kingpin but all the songs have something refreshing on offer. All this of course is only made possible by Herbie Hancock's superb playing. A great album overall that I would recommend highly to all those who appreciate Joni Mitchell's genius and to those who love jazz.
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on 5 November 2009
Its probably helpful to know that I like both these artists without being fanatical about either, having come to both in my thirties. This is appropriately more of a herbie album than a Joni album and some of the "big singing" seems, to my ear, a bit self conscious compared to the Mitchell delivery, the notable exception to this being "Court and Spark" which I think is magnificent and the highlight of the album.
The instrumental music is rich but sparse,imagine smoked salmon or a good single malt, the whole blends into a very pleasant "night-music"
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on 11 February 2008
Herbie Hancock mining musical forms outside the Jazz canon should not be either a surprise nor source for concern among traditionalists. Whether exploring Electronica harder and more boldly that most of his contemporaries in the Seventies--except, of course, for Miles--or getting involved with Hip-Hop or nodding to Pop, Hancock's work may not always be of everyone's liking but it can always claim honesty and quality.

With Joni Letters, this is confirmed ... more yet, this is taken to another level of excellence. Having worked with Mitchell already in her album dedicated to Charles Mingus tunes, Herbie returns to Joni's songbook to reinterpret it, to sculpt new possibilities out of her poems--to call them lyrics might leave you with a limited impressions of the beauty and depth of her words.

The arrangements are bold yet always faithful to the originals. Edith and The Kingpin--probably the best track in an album full of gems--turned into a dark Jazz ballad and sung remarkably well by Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen reading The Jungle Line with a sense of sinisterness that those lyrics may not have revealed before, or his treatment of Both Sides Now are sufficient proof of it.

In addition to these tracks there's plenty more to bow to. Luciana Souza's rendition of Amelia is impeccable and soulful as well as River sung by Corinne Bailey Rae--although my nod for best version still goes to Madeline Peyroux and kd lang.

Last but definitely not least, there's Wayne Shorter sounding as lyrical and fierce in all the right places, and master Hancock himself. Herbie's playing is truly stunning throughout the record, confirming yet again his place among the greatest pianists of any genre.

If you are into Jazz but not Joni, this is where you'd want to come in. Even if the opposite is so for you, again, this is the right door to open. Welcome to the work of two geniuses.
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