River: The Joni Letters

By HERBIE HANCOCK

On his lovely and loving tribute to singer- songwriter extraordinaire Joni Mitchell, the iconic jazz pianist Herbie Hancock aims to enter Mitchell?s richly suggestive world rather than remake her via his own preoccupations — anyone expecting this to be a blunt “Herbie Jazzes Joni” project will no doubt be disappointed. An introspective yet thoroughly compelling quality that also extends to the choice instrumental performances pervades the album, a seductive quality akin to Mitchell?s own best work.

In keeping with Hancock?s open embrace, ?River? has its share of A-list collaborators. Guest vocalists including Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Leonard Cohen, and, on ?Tea Leaf Prophecy,? the muse herself, bring new life to such Mitchell anthems as ?River,? ?Court and Spark? and ?Amelia.? But attentive ears will also hear some gorgeous playing from Wayne Shorter, the brilliant saxophonist who has collaborated with Hancock since their mid-Sixties stint with Miles Davis. In a nod to Joni?s shared admiration for the saxophone stylist, Hancock even redirects the spotlight for a nimble reworking of Shorter?s own ?Nefertiti.? This curious blend of source materials — which also finds room for Duke Ellington ?s ?Solitude? ? somehow coheres beautifully. As Mitchell throws her arms around the world in her own music, so Hancock honors her vision with this inclusive masterpiece.
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