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River: The Joni Letters (Bonus Track Version)

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iTunes Review

This GRAMMY®-winning album isn’t simply a collection of Joni Mitchell covers by the pianist Herbie Hancock; it’s an expansive tribute album that imaginatively honors the legendary Canadian singer/songwriter from a number of different angles. River features jazz classics that you know Joni must dig; guest vocalists performing Mitchell’s songs; instrumental versions of her tunes; and an appearance by Joni herself on “Tea Leaf Prophecy.” The album is full of surprises. An instrumental version of “Both Sides Now” is a radical reimagining of the original, and a version of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” reworks the 60s classic to great effect. The Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza strongly evokes Mitchell on “Amelia,” but she brings her own touch to the song, too. Tina Turner never sounded as jazzy as she does on “Edith and the Kingpin.” Leonard Cohen’s spoken word performance on “The Jungle Line” is gripping, but “Court and Spark,” sung by Norah Jones, might be the disc’s most intriguing track. Hancock, as restrained and inventive here as he is on the rest of the album, quietly dazzles, and Jones sounds great on this drifting, moody version. The band — Hancock, Shorter, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta — is superb. River is a wonderful homage to Mitchell and an excellent jazz album in its own right.

Customer Reviews

Jazz At It's Very Best

As a North Texas State University (NTSU) trained jazz keyboard player, I can tell you that jazz piano does not get any better than Herbie's playing on this album. It is truly amazing how he brings out the best in all the musicians that play with him on this album. It is equally amazing that Herbie's playing seems as fresh, new, and colorful as his early days with Miles. I have listened to Herbie Hancock's music since I was teenager more than 40 years back. This new album brings back so many fine memories of seeing him live with Miles, Wayne Shorter and playing at NTSU for a concert with the One O'Clock Lab Band when I was a freshman there. I remember sitting in awe in the front row wondering if I ever would feel that gifted on just one song in my life. This album only confirms to me that the Herbie Hankcocks of the world only come once in a life time. I am glad it was my life time! I can honestly say that this album is for every true jazz connoisseur and should be required listening for all inspiring jazz musicians.

Picture Postcard Charms

One could trace Joni Mitchell’s jazz sensibilities perhaps as far back as Court and Spark, certainly by the time of The Hissing of Summer Lawns. In the mid-to-late 1970s, many of Mitchell’s compositions utilized jazz musicians due, in large part, to the instrumental dexterity required to play them. One such musician, Herbie Hancock, now leads a brilliant tribute to Mitchell on his latest release, River: The Joni Letters. The album features an impressive guest list, including Leonard Cohen, Luciana Souza, Norah Jones, and Corinne Bailey Rae. Also involved is saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who, in addition to having played with Hancock as far back as in the Miles Davis Quintet, has also lent his talents to some of Mitchell’s recordings. Mitchell herself even makes an appearance, reinterpreting one her past works, “The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms).” Rather than presenting literal translations, Hancock takes liberties in spacing out the sound of each song, giving the musicians license to improvise or perhaps to allow a vocalist to slip into a groove. A prime example of this occurs on “Court and Spark,” during which Norah Jones sings in a sparing yet sultry manner while the music sprawls on for nearly eight minutes. Another facet of this album is how the music, even in its more liberal variations, arcs to the sonic contours of Mitchell’s lyrics. On “Amelia,” for instance, Luciana Souza’s voice, which sounds eerily like Mitchell’s on the original track, serves as a through line for Shorter, particularly, to play around. As well, Tina Turner’s refined performance on “Edith and the Kingpin” is the centerpiece of the song, while the musicians deftly compliment its sophisticated phrasings. No one song on this album signifies Mitchell’s command with language better than “The Jungle Line.” Lyrics once buried by Burundi drums now resonate in lucid and striking fashion, as Hancock’s lone piano accompanies Leonard Cohen’s cadenced recitation. Lyrical in their own right by way of their musical structure and sound, four instrumentals fill out the album. Although not written by Mitchell, two of those compositions, Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” and Miles Davis’ “Nefertiti,” were included because they influenced her as an artist. Incidentally, Hancock and Shorter played on the Miles Davis original, from the album of the same name. On each song, Herbie Hancock conducts a compelling rendering of Joni Mitchell’s music and muse. River: The Joni Letters not only represents an exceptional album, but also an appropriate tribute to the most influential female singer/songwriter of the 20th century, the quintessential Lady of the Canyon.

The Tina Turner Song Is Breathtaking

It's a joy to hear Tina's rapid-fire enunciation in a whole new medium. I've heard her do rock/blues/pop/soul/gospel and even country but never jazz. Herbie - THANK YOU & please record an entire album with Miss Turner right away!


Born: April 12, 1940 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

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

Herbie Hancock will always be one of the most revered and controversial figures in jazz -- just as his employer/mentor Miles Davis was when he was alive. Unlike Miles, who pressed ahead relentlessly and never looked back until near the very end, Hancock has cut a zigzagging forward path, shuttling between almost every development in electronic and acoustic jazz and R&B over the last third of the 20th century and into the 21st. Though grounded in Bill Evans and able to absorb blues, funk, gospel,...
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