New York-born pianist Rachel Nicolazzo, nicknamed Rachel Z, is one of the more musically open-minded "young lions" to have emerged from the 1990s. Besides making her own eclectic recordings, she has worked with a variety of artists from Steps Ahead
to Wayne Shorter
. This project is her heartfelt tribute to Joni Mitchell
and follows her previous recording of Shorter's compositions (a logical choice because Mitchell often worked with Shorter). Backed by drummer Bobbie Rae and Canadian bassist Patricia Deslauriers, Rachel extends and elaborates on the sophisticated harmonies and visual poetry of Mitchell's music. Although the overall sound of the trio evokes some of the pastoral vibes of Keith Jarrett
's '70s ECM recordings, it's the Herbie Hancock
-influenced piano lines and Shorter-styled imagination that provide the stylistic fuel for these rhythmic and revealing reinterpretations. On "Help Me," "Ladies Man," and "All I Want," Z weaves in some sly Bill Evans and Charlie Parker rhythmic changes and chords. The title track bops with harmonic hints of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," while "Free Man in Paris" is redone with a Latin lilt. Rachel Z understands that the beauty of Joni Mitchell's music is its ability to communicate, and nothing demonstrates this more than her hymnlike reading of "Both Sides Now," where Ms. Z makes the piano sing in Mitchell's moody and moving voice. --Eugene Holley Jr.