Rachel Z's tribute to Joni Mitchell has perhaps arrived at just the right time, hot on the heels of Mitchell's decision to never record again. No doubt her die-hard fans will be clamoring for as much original and tribute material as possible, and a good many will find joy in this comfortable instrumental release.
It's impossible not to like the buoyant, loving arrangements that Rachel Z has collected here. However, for as many popular tunes as Joni Mitchell has created over the past three decades, this homage clarifies the fact that she a stronger lyricist than a composer. The jaunty theme of "Big Yellow Taxi" jumps right out, but like many of the selections here, the melody becomes a bit repetitive without the witty, socially conscious lyrics to fill things out.
The three musicians perform exquisitely as a unit, often with a sense of David Benoit's lighter piano works. There are a number of charming twists and turns in the charts. Of particular note are Patricia Des Lauriers' resonant double-stops on the closing "Lakota", and Bobbie Rae's subtly effective rhyhmic matrices throughout the disc. The lush piano ripplings on "Chinese Cafe" and taut interaction on "Free Man in Paris" are attention-grabbers, and "From Both Sides Now" receives what is perhaps its most introspective interpretation yet. This music is obviously close to Rachel Z's heart.
The only real beef remains a major one: Joni Mitchell's musical universe is so centered upon her words that it's hard for anyone to do her justice in an instrumental setting. No harm, no foul, then. The trio has made an admirable attempt at honoring a legend, resulting in a truly uplifting album.
Personnel: Rachel Z, piano; Patricia Des Lauriers, bass; Bobbie Rae, drums.