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David Lahm: Jazz Takes on Joni Mitchell

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It would be so much easier (I presume) to review this new release by arranger/pianist David Lahm if one were at all familiar with the music of Joni Mitchell. I blush to admit that I am not. The only song by Mitchell I can remember being drawn to is “Clouds,” and that one isn’t here. So it’s back to square one (which, come to think of it, could be another name for one who doesn’t know anything about Joni Mitchell). Approaching Jazz Takes from the standpoint of an album of original and unknown (to me) compositions, I was immediately impressed by the swinging groove of its opening tune, “Solid Love,” with tasteful brass/harmonica/guitar riffs buttressing a smoldering tenor solo by Lew Tabackin. This is the first of nine songs by Mitchell reframed by Lahm, one of which, “The Blonde in the Bleachers,” comprises the first part of a medley with his own coda, “The Vamp from Hell.” Tabackin returns on “Blue Motel Room,” and his soulful, Jacquet–style performance on that ballad is another highlight (as is William Galison’s harmonica solo). Galison isn’t in the lineup on the alternate version of “Solid Love,” but Tabackin more than makes up for his absence with another warm–blooded solo (and sorry, William, but I like this one even better without the harmonica). In terms of Jazz content, “Solid Love” stands apart from the others, but several of them are quite engaging in their own way. Randy Brecker’s flugel brightens the ballad “Edith and the Kingpin,” vibraphonist David Friedman sparkles on the rhythmic “Song for Sharon,” and alto saxophonist Tom Chapin is all over his horn on the gospel–like “Shadows and Light.” To these ears, “Blonde in the Bleachers/Vamp from Hell” and “The Fiddle and the Drum” are less successful, but that’s only an opinion, not a pronouncement. Starting at ground zero, as I was here, I must assume that Lahm has fashioned commendable adaptations of Mitchell’s songs. Everyone plays well, and much of the music is worthwhile. For fans of Ms. Mitchell, an interesting “take” on her music; for the rest of us, a reasonably diverting hour or so of mainstream Jazz.

Track listing: Solid Love; Song for Sharon; Edith & the Kingpin; Coyote; Blue Motel Room; The Blonde in the Bleachers / The Vamp from Hell; Fiddle and the Drum; Solid Love (alt.); Shadows and Light (61:58).

Collective personnel: David Lahm, piano; Thomas Chapin, alto sax, flute; Lew Tabackin, tenor sax; Rick Centalonza, tenor sax, clarinet; Roger Rosenberg, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Jim O’Connor, trumpet; Randy Brecker, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ed Neumeister, trombone; Jack Schatz, bass trombone; David Friedman, vibes; Mike LeDonne, organ; William Galison, harmonica; Mark Feldman, violin; James Chirillo, rhythm guitar; Peter Herbert, Peter Washington, bass; Skulli Sverisson, electric bass; Ron Vincent, Kenny Washington, drums.

Contact: Arkadia Entertainment, 34 E. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010 (212–533–0007; e–mail jazz@arkadiarecords.com)

Record Label: Arkadia Jazz

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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