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Album Review

In the months prior to the passing of legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus, Joni Mitchell had been personally summoned by the bop pioneer to collaborate on a musical version of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. The project would entail Mitchell to condense the text for Mingus to score instrumentally. He planned on utilizing a full orchestra, as well as the more traditional guitar and bass. They would accompany Mitchell's vocals and the narration of selected portions of the text. After a few weeks of consideration, Mitchell's reaction was that "[she]'d rather condense the bible." Mingus then bestowed Mitchell with six melodies — "Joni I" through "Joni VI" — penned specifically for her. Mitchell spent a few weeks with Mingus — who was totally immobilized from amyotropic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's Disease) — during the spring of 1978. Their partnership advanced the half-dozen tunes. More importantly, it shook Mitchell from a three-month long writer's block/drought — yielding two of her best late-'70s compositions: "God Must Be a Boogie Man" and the revisitation and completion of a track she'd been wood-shedding, now titled "The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey." Incidentally, the former piece was inspired by the opening chapters of Mingus' autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. Initial recordings during Mitchell's stay with Mingus in New York City produced several interesting experimental sessions with the likes of Stanley Clarke (bass), Jan Hammer (keyboards), John McLaughlin (guitar), Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax), and Tony Williams (drums). A few of these recordings — while rumored to have been lost, destroyed, or made otherwise unavailable — were leaked into the trading community in the late '90s. Arguably, Mitchell could not have chosen any finer musicians than the sextet she ultimately incorporated into this work. The luminaries include Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Jaco Pastorious (bass/horn arrangements), Peter Erskine (drums), Don Alias (congas), and Emil Richards (percussion). Sprinkled amongst these soulfully jazzy pieces are five "raps," or aural snapshots of the time Mitchell and Mingus spent together. Sadly, Charles Mingus passed before he was able to listen to this timeless and ageless paean to his remarkable contributions to bop and free jazz.

Customer Reviews

Joni, the album & ALS

ALS is an incurable and ongoing progression toward eventual inablilty to use arms, legs, hands etc. It is the same disease associated with Lou Gehrig. In fact it was Mingus himself who was totally immobilized by Amyotropic lateral Sclerosis in the Spring of 1978!
She did an interview with Jian Ghomeshi for CBC two days ago (June 9/13), and though having some difficulty breathing (chain smoking could have something to do with that) she admitted to having an ongoing battle with recurrent polio from she she was a kid. Promoting these 'rumors' about her is one of the things she addressed in her interview with Ghomeshi. She also talked at leangth about this particular album project, and its origins from conversations between she and Charlie Mingus. Mingus wasn't happy about the album in the end, owing to the majority of collaborative players coming from Miles Davis' band, with whom he had an ongoing feud. I think it has some spectacular moments!


Born: November 07, 1943 in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

No female artist better typified the singer/songwriter movement of the '70s than Joni Mitchell, though her public image as the serious, sensitive woman with a guitar shortchanged her abilities, ambitions, and accomplishments. Mitchell's gift for writing personal, folk-inspired songs about the thorny side of life and love was inarguable (particularly on albums like 1970's Ladies of the Canyon and 1971's Blue), but Mitchell also brought the same smarts and eloquence to glossy pop on her commercial...
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