Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters
Audio CD (September 25, 2007)
Original Release Date: September 25, 2007
Format: Special Edition
Bitrate: 320 kbps
This Amazon.com exclusive version of River: The Joni Letters includes two bonus tracks, "All I Want" featuring Sonya Kitchell and "A Case of You."
On paper, River sounds like a match made in several versions of heaven. Legendary pianist Herbie Hancock re-imagines Joni Mitchell with his hand-picked, star-studded band--including saxophonist Wayne Shorter--in tow. Luminary guests lend vocals to a song apiece: Norah Jones ( "Court and Spark" ), Tina Turner ( "Edith and the Kingpin" ), Corinne Bailey Rae ( "River" ), Luciana Souza ( "Amelia" ), Leonard Cohen ( with an unsettlingly sanguine version of "The Jungle Line" ), even Mitchell herself ( "Tea Leaf Prophecy" ). In the event, though, a few fundamental elements go awry. Hancock plays with almost saccharine understatement throughout, and even Shorter's seminal "Nefertiti" and Duke Ellington's "Solitude" fall into the album's presiding, somnolent surface, though to a lesser degree does the instrumental version of Mitchell's "Sweet Bird." But girding, and in some measure, saving, the proceedings, the lyrics here testify to a subtler wisdom guiding Hancock's set list. The mix includes a continuum from intrepid classics to dusty, fans-only fare, but a distinct reverence for Joni Mitchell the Poet threads them together, and, in the end, this album works best as a sleepy window into one fan's giddy and particular love affair with his source material. Fans of Hancock win out. ~ Jason Kirk
A perfect disc. Tina Turner's take on Edith and the Kingpin moves right into legend. Herbie applies his Mind to Joni Mitchell and mind to mind, art to art, something extraordinary quickens. Call the disc subdued, the better to raise an art. Here are two artists not led by their public, which is to say by fame. What happens therefore is something that reaches, and something worthwhile. Hancock takes Tea Leaf Prophecy and leads Joni back to her jazz self. Very cool. His playing throughout is musically mature, free, unafraid, especially in a redefining 'Both Sides Now' and a ravishing take on Mitchell's musically ebullient 'I Had a King', the two lengthiest tracks on the disc. In the end, and even inbetween, this is Herbie Hancock at peace, and he paints Joni Mitchell with master strokes. &check out T Turner's brilliant turn on Edith! It's a time-stopping bit of pure art that defines the reason for the record. Take your hat off, and your shoes. ~ J. Anderson
Herbie Hancock mining musical forms outside the Jazz canon should not be either a surprise nor source for concern among traditionalists. Whether exploring Electronica harder and more boldly that most of his contemporaries in the Seventies--except, of course, for Miles--or getting involved with Hip-Hop or nodding to Pop, Hancock's work may not always be of everyone's liking but it can always claim honesty and quality.
With Joni Letters, this is confirmed ... more yet, this is taken to another level of excellence. Having worked with Mitchell already in her album dedicated to Charles Mingus tunes, Herbie returns to Joni's songbook to reinterpret it, to sculpt new possibilities out of her poems--to call them lyrics might leave you with a limited impressions of the beauty and depth of her words.
The arrangements are bold yet always faithful to the originals. Edith and The Kingpin--probably the best track in an album full of gems--turned into a dark Jazz ballad and sung remarkably well by Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen reading The Jungle Line with a sense of sinisterness that those lyrics may not have revealed before, or his treatment of Both Sides Now are sufficient proof of it.
In addition to these tracks there's plenty more to bow to. Luciana Souza's rendition of Amelia is impeccable and soulful as well as River sung by Corinne Bailey Rae--although my nod for best version still goes to Madeline Peyroux and kd lang.
Last but definitely not least, there's Wayne Shorter sounding as lyrical and fierce in all the right places, and master Hancock himself. Herbie's playing is truly stunning throughout the record, confirming yet again his place among the greatest pianists of any genre.
If you are into Jazz but not Joni, this is where you'd want to come in. Even if the opposite is so for you, again, this is the right door to open. Welcome to the work of two geniuses. ~ Juan Mobili
Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters tracks:
01 Court and Spark [Nora Johes] 07:36
02 Edith and the Kingpin [Tina Turner] 06:33
03 Both Sides Now [Instrumental] 07:39
04 River [Corinne Bailey Rae] 05:26
05 Sweet Bird [Instrumental] 08:17
06 Tea Leaf Prophecy [Joni Mitchell] 06:35
07 Solitude [Instrumental] 05:44
08 Amelia [Luciana Souza] 07:28
09 Nefertiti [Instrumental] 07:31
10 The Jungle Line [Leonard Cohen] 05:04
11 A Case of You 07:37
12 All I Want [Sonya Kitchell] 04:15