Herbie Hancock

River: The Joni Letters | Verve
By JON GARELICK  |  September 24, 2007
3.5 3.5 Stars
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Herbie Hancock with an all-star cast of guest vocalists purveying Joni Mitchell would seem to promise nothing more than a slick pop crossover. But Herbie isn’t fooling around — the guest stars are here, yes, but Hancock, fronting a quintet that includes his old friend Wayne Shorter as well as Dave Holland, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and guitarist Lionel Loueke, is stretching out, with languid, meditative takes on the Mitchell songbook. “Court and Spark” (with Norah Jones) runs 7:35, a piano-solo intro followed by verses broken with extensive interplay between the pianist and Shorter on soprano. For “Both Sides Now,” Hancock dispenses with vocals altogether, turning the tune abstract with ambiguous harmonies and the nubby textures of Shorter’s tenor. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t great singing here. “Edith and the Kingpin” rides on Tina Turner’s church-quality diction, jazzy phrasing, and rich vibrato; “Amelia” exploits Luciana Souza’s dark, full lower register; Mitchell herself offers a wry “Tea Leaf Prophecy”; Leonard Cohen recites “The Jungle Line” like Beat poetry. Only Corinne Bailey Rae lacks the weight for “River.” Hancock supplements the Mitchell pieces with Ellington’s “Solitude” and Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” He’s hearing Mitchell not as pop but as deep jazz.

Herbie Hancock | “A Celebration of Jazz & Joyce” | Symphony Hall, 301 Mass Ave, Boston | Sept 28 | 888.266.1200
  Topics: CD Reviews , Entertainment, Music, Norah Jones,  More more >
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