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Herbie HANCOCK – River, The Joni Letters 2007

Posted in Herbie HANCOCK, JAZZ on November 19, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Herbie HANCOCK – River, The Joni Letters 2007


River: The Joni Letters is the 2007 album by Herbie Hancock. His 47th studio album, it was released on September 25, 2007 by Verve Records. The tribute album is an homage to Joni Mitchell, a longtime associate and friend of Hancock. Both Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter previously collaborated with Mitchell on the 1979 jazz album, Mingus.[1]

Guest vocalists on River include Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza and Mitchell herself.
Any doubts about the incongruity of jazz icon Herbie Hancock covering singer-songwriter extraordinare Joni Mitchell will be obliterated on the first journey through RIVER: THE JONI LETTERS. For starters, the premise is not especially incongruous. Hancock has had a long, adventurous career in which he’s traversed genres and masterfully blended styles, while Mitchell has always been deeply influenced by jazz as both a composer and a singer. RIVER features many of Mitchell’s finest songs, stunning in their own right and reinterpreted beautifully by Hancock, plus a stellar assortment of musicians and guest vocalists.

Mitchell’s pop and folk tendencies have been assimilated into the arrangements; the album plays like a vocal jazz outing. Hancock is joined by fellow Miles Davis alums Wayne Shorter and Dave Holland, among others, and the guest vocalists include Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Leonard Cohen, and on one track Mitchell herself. Sophisticated, soulful, and gorgeous, RIVER is a must for fans of Mitchell, classic jazz, adult contemporary artists like Norah Jones–and, well, just about everyone.
The legendary pianist and innovator explores the words and music of another musical pioneer Joni Mitchell on his first new studio recording for Verve since 1998’s GRAMMY® Award winner Gershwin’s World.
Inspired in equal parts by Mitchell’s poetic lyrics and unique melodies/harmonies, the musicians play with a restraint and elegance (on both the instrumental and vocal tracks) that achieves a perfect balance between the adventurous aesthetics of jazz improvisation and the emotional directness of the finest Adult Pop music.
QUITE a few years ago,” the pianist Herbie Hancock said recently, “Joni gave me a watch.” He was referring to Joni Mitchell, the subject of his elegant album “River: The Joni Letters,” due out on Verve on Sept. 25, the same day as Ms. Mitchell’s “Shine.”

The watch bore an inscription, “He Played Real Good for Free,” that acknowledged a history of collaboration on benefit concerts. “Now, to show you how little I really knew about Joni,” Mr. Hancock added, “I didn’t know that was the title of one of her songs.” (In fact the line is from a song called simply “For Free.”)

That familiar-yet-unfamiliar perspective flows through “River,” which was produced by Mr. Hancock with Larry Klein, Ms. Mitchell’s ex-husband and longtime creative partner. The album doesn’t enact an admiring arm’s-length revision, like “A Tribute to Joni Mitchell,” the fine compilation released on Nonesuch this spring. What it delivers is an intimate reinvention issuing from someplace deep inside the music.

Mr. Hancock plays acoustic piano throughout, and Wayne Shorter, another friend of Ms. Mitchell’s, plays saxophones. They are joined by the bassist Dave Holland, the drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and, periodically, the guitarist Lionel Loueke. On roughly half the album they play as a jazz combo, casting a sparse and enigmatic illumination.

They also support a handful of vocalists, ranging from the wistful young singer-songwriters Corinne Bailey Rae and Norah Jones (on “River” and “Court and Spark” respectively) to the spectral poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen (“The Jungle Line”). Tina Turner takes a mesmerizing turn on “Edith and the Kingpin,” while the Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza offers a respectful “Amelia.”

Then there is Ms. Mitchell herself. “If she’s not a jazz singer, I don’t know who is,” Mr. Hancock said. “Her phrasing on ‘Tea Leaf Prophecy’ is unbelievable.”

Not that Ms. Mitchell had to prove her jazz credentials to Mr. Hancock, whose guest-laden 2005 pop album, “Possibilities” (Hear Music), has sold 388,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. “River” celebrates an artist with an evasive relationship to genre. It takes one to know one, as they say.
By Nate Chinen.
Herbie Hancock– Piano
Wayne Shorter– Soprano and Tenor saxophone
Lionel Loueke– Guitar
Dave Holland– Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta– Drums
01. Court and Spark (ft. Norah Jones)
02. Edith and the Kingpin (ft. Tina Turner)
03. Both Sides Now
04. River (ft. Corinne Bailey Rae)
05. Sweet Bird
06. Tea Leaf Prophecy (ft. Joni Mitchell)
07. Solitude
08. Amelia (ft. Luciana Souza)
09. Nefertiti
10. The Jungle Line (ft. Leonard Cohen)

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