The most interesting Jazz album I have heard this year has been Herbie Hancock’s tribute disc to Joni Mitchell — River: The Joni Letters.
Mitchell’s poetic folk and jazz style lends itself well to a more pure jazz interpretation, and Hancock does just that. It does the material great justice.
Considering how fabulous the disc is, it sold next to nothing before winning a Grammy for Album of the Year — and not a whole lot more since. That’s a shame, as it is a cool delight. Perhaps last year’s messy and inconsistent A Tribute To Joni Mitchell is to blame… except for k.d. lang’s languid version of Help Me, the rest of the album was mostly a bust.
That’s a shame, because this album really deserves a chance to shine on its own. Hancock is a legendary jazz musician, keyboardist, and producer. His star-studded list of vocalists includes Corinne Bailey Rae ("River"), Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina
Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), Leonard
Cohen ("The Jungle Line"), and Mitchell herself ("Tea Leaf Prophecy"). Saxophonist Wayne Shorter adds a smooth and mellow flavor throughout.
One of the highlights of the disc is River (see video below). Hancock creates a fine balance between jazz improvisation and adult pop. Listen to how he arranges this song, pulling its jazz essence to the fore, while Corinne Bailey Rae wraps her voice perfectly around this Mitchell composition.
Perfect for our Friday Night Jazz session . . .
Herbie Hancock featuring Corinne Bailey Rae – River
Fast Focus (short documentary)
New York Jungle-part 1 (The Jungle Line-H.Hancock/ L.Cohen)