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Joni Mitchell's love of jazz has never been a secret, but this program of mostly old standards is a departure for the folk-rock icon. In characteristically creative fashion, Mitchell orders the songs so that they tell the story of a typical romantic relationship, from the first-blush sentiments of "At Last" to the anguish of "Answer Me, My Love," to the zen-like perseverance of her own classic "Both Sides Now." In so doing, she makes a statement that is truly universal, and she also makes each song uniquely her own. Her smoky, weather-worn voice is still a thing of unsurpassed beauty. Her subdued delivery and unorthodox diction recall Billie Holiday most of all.
Seventy members of the London Symphony Orchestra surround Mitchell with luxury; the arrangements are tailored with expert care by Vince Mendoza. Mitchell's ex-husband, bassist Larry Klein, is the musical director. Peter Erskine and bassist Chuck Berghofer provide the most senstive rhythmic accompaniment imaginable. And any number of session musicians could have come in to lay down perfectly acceptable (and perhaps innocuous) solos, but no: Make way for Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Mark Isham. Shorter's five guest appearances (on tenor as well as soprano) are particularly amazing: here's a player with a style as idiosyncratic and unmistakable as Joni Mitchell's. (The same could be said about the late Jaco Pastorius, another notable jazzer with whom Joni often worked.) It's fitting for a great singer/songwriter to surround herself with complementary greatness, and Both Sides Now is another fine example of that Joni Mitchell tradition.