Tuesday, January 20, 2009
COURT AND SPARK
Moving away from intimate guitar/piano vocal only presentation, Joni Mitchell linked up with Tom Scott and the LA Express as well as some of the top jazzers in the session game. Her voice is still very much a focal point, despite the ambitious arrangements.
She remained without peer in the song writing department.
Refusing to be tagged and filed in the early 70's "singer-songwriter" bin, Mitchell pushed past these restrictions to produce an intelligent, esoteric work of art. This propelled her far beyond the musings of some of her contemporaries, who had yet to come to grips with the megaton blast that had reshaped music in the late 60's.
Comfortable in her own skin, "Court and Spark" set the tone for experiments to come.
"People's Parties" is one of the best things that she ever committed to tape. Observation is entwined with all of the human frailty of the observer, shaded in with that immaculate 12 string part. Transitioning shrilly (overdriven layered vocals) into "Same Situation" with a piano based soft landing pad, an intimate vocal performance breaks into an uplifting plea: "Send me somebody, who's strong and somewhat sincere."
The "hit" single was "Help Me", with strong support from Larry Carlton. His tasteful playing through the fade is beyond description. "Free Man in Paris" featuring Crosby and Nash on backing vocals, charted as well. The blurring of gender perspective in the chorus line coupled with that guitar hook is extremely effective.
Both of these songs represent a very deft marriage of pop and jazz with incredible attention to detail in every aspect. All possible loose ends are dealt with and you WANT to hear more.
"Raised on Robbery"
Heavily orchestrated arrangements ("Down to You") never overwhelm the author. Unlike so many before (and too many after) her constructions steer away from the whiny, cliche-ridden paths that could easily be taken when subject matter drifts so close to the writer's experiences.
Covering the jokey "Twisted", wrapped in full-on jazz, is a bizarre ending to an otherwise stellar set.
Listeners will be drawn in by the melodies, musicians by the roster of great players that lend their hands to these impressive songs. Joni was only at the beginning of a rewarding journey into deeper forms of expression, with concessions to a wider audience soon to be all but left behind.