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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

Performing Your Life

At a time when my own musical career was taking off 'Mingus' hit me like a train in 1979. The soul-wrenching and creatively restless character of the compositions and performances draws one in, without ever becoming mawkish. Here are fine collaborative performances from some of the 70s jazz world's greatest musicians. That Mitchell turns her hand to jazz so convincingly, exhibiting a well thought-out vocal and emotional dexterity in her performance, is a tribute both to her and to the supporting musicians. Yes, this album isn't what you'll find in almost any other Mitchell album. But if enjoy hearing amazing musicians taking risks and performing at their peak, then you need to buy this! Interesting that Herbie Hancock, perhaps on behalf of Charlie Mingus, has returned the favour some 30 years later, by releasing his own Joni tribute - 'River, The Joni Letters' - also well worth a listen.

Ignore world opinion

"World opinion's not a lot of help when a man's only trying to work out how to feel about himself." By asking to collaborate with Joni Mitchell, jazz heavyweight Charles Mingus paid her the grandest compliment she could have ever wanted. She responds in kind by singing words, some of which are taken from Mingus's autobiography, Beneath the underdog, to music, some of which he had composed for the project, beautifully. It's a complicated mixture of two strong personalities, one at the end of his life, the other in her prime. The result is difficult to describe and many followers of both parties find it difficult to stomach.

Timeless and flawless virtuoso musicality

I am a lifelong fan of Joni’s work. The skill with which she handles the intricacies of jazz music is a reminder of a multi-dimensional approach to her music and her personal voice. I love you Joni for the pleasure you have given me since the release of your first album, 'Song To A Seagull’, in the late '68. This album is a deep and thoughtful collaborative effort which treats the listener to 'God Must Be A Boogie Man’ and ‘The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey’. The album would be worth the asking price for these two tracks alone, in my opinion. There are many other delights including ’The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines’, ‘A Chair In The Sky’ and ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’. If it was ever going to be required, ‘Mingus' is an album which places Joni firmly in the pantheon of musicians who deserve to be labelled with the epithet, ‘great’. A must buy album for Joni fans and a great listen for fans of jazz music too.


Born: 07 November 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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