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River: The Joni Letters

4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 25, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The legendary pianist and innovator explores the words and music of another musical pioneer JONI MITCHELL on his first new studio recording for Verve since 1998's GRAMMYr Award winner Gershwin's World. Inspired in equal parts by Mitchell's poetic lyrics and unique melodies/harmonies, the musicians play with a restraint and elegance (on both the instrumental and vocal tracks) that achieves a perfect balance between the adventurous aesthetics of jazz improvisation and the emotional directness of the finest Adult Pop music Herbie Hancock's latest recording Possibilities has scanned nearly 400,000 units. Joni Mitchell's brand new album also releases on 9/25 early confirmed media includes: NPR Morning Edition feature (airdate TBD); NY Times Arts & Leisure Fall Preview; review in The New Yorker.

Amazon.com

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

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Court And Spark
  2. Edith And the Kinpin
  3. Both Sides Now
  4. River
  5. Sweet Bird
  6. Tea Leaf Prophecy
  7. Solitude
  8. Amelia
  9. Nefertiti
  10. The Jungle Line


Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 25, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Verve
  • ASIN: B000UVLK1M
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,217 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John W. Dunner on February 16, 2008
Format: Audio CD
The sophistication of Mitchell's song constructions provides a plethora of interpretive possibilities. Hancock heads for the Ritz-Carlton. With guest vocalists Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza, and Joni herself, Hancock dances gracefully up and down the twisting staircases of Mitchell's melodies, crossing the ballroom again and again for yet another chic-to-chic peek at her poetry. It's all gleaming wood and polished elegance, even as Wayne Shorter's sax prods Hancock on to more adventurous turns of phrase. The disc closes with Leonard Cohen's guttural narration of Mitchell's "The Jungle Line," a fittingly odd close to an album idolizing an iconoclast. A celebration of subtlety.
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Format: Audio CD
SHORT REVIEW: Very enjoyable cd, with great production & instrumentation by Herbie Hancock. great pop songs by Joni Mitchell. great performances by all performers involved.

LONG REVIEW: A seemless cd, made up of a variety of jazz musical sounds by Herbie, together with the jazzy introspective folk-pop of Joni Mitchell.

Sure its on the mellow side but Joni is the showcase and her lyrics, here performed by Joni and others, goes perfectly with the savy down tempo playing of the instrumentalists. But that is not meant to be a negative comment. The instrumental passages and moments are very good. This is jazz, a bit mellow, but not in a bad way. Its loose and improvisational jazz(heck look who is playing it!!!), with a wee bit of sly Hancock funk, lightly sprinkled throughout. Subtle yet poignant. Sweet yet salty.

...if you have any hesitation, see if you can listen to the first 2 songs all the way through. Beautiful performances all the way around, but these songs are not meant to be 30sec clips. Sweet Bird & Tea Leaf Prophecy are also very nice. I was not disappointed with anything really. Even the non-Joni songs fit seemlessly into the overall vibe of the cd. I have even enjoyed the cd playing it loud while driiving, just to hear every musical nuianse. A real audio treat, and to quote a review I saw for another work, "every sound is deliberate and perfect."

Reminds me of Miles Davis cool-jazz ensembles of the late 50s and up thru the 60s up, until he he formed his Bitches Brew group (which had the harder sound that was inspired by late 60s hard rock.). its Miles influenced cool-jazz, filtered thru 70s era Joni Mitchell, with the jazz being a bit more experimental & low key in some sections.

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Format: Audio CD
As a jazz musician for the past 30 years, I have always considered Herbie's work to be of the highest integrity,brilliance and thoughtfullness. This album was so subtle, beautiful and intimately representative of the author. As is so often the case, Herbie and Wayne sound like they were playing from two sides of the same gene-ius. Dave Holland plays with the unusual sensitivity and perfect restraint. Dean Parks and Lionel Loueke share the same sensitivity. Vinnie Coliuta shows so much maturity. If you don't know the words to these songs, get them! You will begin to enjoy the depth of interpretation and nuance that this work offers. I have never, after 3 years, put this disc on and not been brought to great emotional and technical amazement in the same moment. How many stars can you give art?
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is the best Cd I have heard since I first heard "In A Silent Way" by Miles Davis. It helps if you like Joni Mitchell, but do not be deterred. It is still Herbie Hancocks best work since the classic "Maiden Voyage". They are not comparable in content, but this CD in a better musical era would be a bona fide "work of art". Trust me, it is that good. I wish Joni had done more of the vocals, But believe me, I am splitting hairs. The vocals are covered masterfully. After one listen, you will say "what is all the fuss about this grammy winner". However, after that, it will enter your head when you least expect it.......and then you are hooked. Joni Mitchell (who is not eager to please these days) is very reluctant to put her name on to much music these days, but it is obvious, that even the great Joni listens to this master piece. Buy it, you will only get tired of people asking you "who is this", while you are trying to listen to it in your car !!!
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Herbie Hancock's Joni Mitchell tribute is very good, and it's nice Herbie received the extra recognition of the Grammy. I don't think it's the best jazz CD of 2007, but I'm not a voter anyway. The key element in Herbie's band is Wayne Shorter. He plays a big role, and his sensibilities shape the sounds of each song. Dave Holland's bass is excellent, and the drums and guitar don't stand out much. The vocal songs are sung by a variety of fine singers. None of them jazz the song up too much. Tina Turner may not be recognized as a jazz singer, but she sounds very good. My favorite has to be Corinne Rae Bailey, simply for the sound of her voice. Even though there's no scatting, it's certainly a jazz CD, and Herbie and Wayne make sure of that. They play unobvious notes throughout, and make them go down easy enough. The instrumentals are laid back, but it's deep. "Nefertiti" is an instrumental highlight. The last song with Leonard Cohen's narration is just kind of strange.
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