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Jazz Takes On Joni Mitchell

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Album Review

It is an ultimate challenge to take the music of a singer/songwriter, admittedly jazz-influenced, and interpret it by molding the melodies into jazz vehicles. Depending on whether you are a fan of Mitchell's mysteriously oblique folk-pop, this could either sound refreshingly different or utterly pretentious. You'll have to be the judge, but the musicianship is on a very high level, and pianist Lahm's reconstructions of some rather obscure but heavy pieces in Mitchell's repertoire hold high her admirable traits and substantive music, no matter what the pigeonhole. Mitchell's music does not swing much, but goes for it on the old-timey, modern-nuanced, country-flavored "Solid Love." Lew Tabackin's tenor sax solo is smooth as silk, and William Galison's harmonica darts in and out of staccato, probing horns. There's an alternate take without the harmonica. "Shadows & Light" has a completely different instrumental focus — gospel organ from Mike LeDonne and preaching alto by Thomas Chapin lead into Kurt Weill circus-like funk, at times sped up. Chapin's fluttering flute with countering bass clarinet or soprano sax by Roger Rosenberg, plus Skulli Sverisson's insistent bass guitar, spice up "Coyote," spurred on by the kinetic drumming of Ron Vincent. This one is most like the original. Then there's "Song for Sharon," different again with David Friedman's incessant vibes lead perfectly aping Mitchell's vocal quality, at once yearning and winsome, with the juxtaposed background of violinist Mark Feldman, trombonist Ed Neumeister and Chapin's alto waxing serene, yet haunting. "The Fiddle and the Drum" has Feldman's harmonic overtones contrasting Vincent's roiling, burbling rudiments. Randy Brecker's flugelhorn informs the dramatic, sad ballad "Edith and the Kingpin," while the best swinger is the easy blues "Blue Motel Room," with Tabackin, LeDonne and Galison. Most indescribable: the myriad emotions, motifs, dynamic accents and relatively confounding phrases of "The Blonde in the Bleachers" can't be described unless you break it down measure by measure. You simply have to hear it, though there is a discernable avant vamp/jam coda. Mitchell's music is no doubt compelling, complex, involved and filled with multiple thinly veiled references, well represented by Lahm and his all-star mates. Whether it is a groundbreaking effort is purely a matter of taste. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Jazz Takes On Joni Mitchell, David Lahm
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