Lynn Skinner Sings the Jazz in Joni in Denver, CO
Dazzle Jazz Club
November 8, 2007, First Set
Lynn Skinner singing Joni Mitchell songs seems to be a natural combination. Both artists revel in eclecticism. Among their inspirational sources, jazz is a significant touchstone. And both have clear, almost delicate voices. Last night at Dazzle, Skinner performed Joni Mitchell songs both well known and more obscure and paid tribute to one of North America's most influential genre-crossing artists in both song and spoken word.
Skinner started the evening with a monologue about Mitchell and her music. It was a fitting introduction: since the evening's program was all Joni, it made sense to talk about her. The Joni disquisition continued throughout the set with Skinner assigning readings to her band mates between songs. These provided additional insight into Mitchell and her music and included observations and kudos from people like Herbie Hancock. Pianist Bob Schlesinger told the story behind the song Careysomething about Joni living in a cave in Crete. Skinner shared her own realization, after many listenings to "Little Green," that the song is actually about Mitchell's daughter, whom she gave up for adoption and later located some 20 years after writing the song.
Joni Mitchell's songs provide fertile ground for harvesting new and innovative jazz arrangements and propagating bountiful solos. The band's arrangements of the familiar tunes were decidedly jazz-tinged, and it was revelatory to hear those old chestnuts in a new light. Skinner's voice, while similar to Mitchell's in some respects, is different in one big way: her range goes far beyond anything Mitchell has put on record, enabling Skinner's to insert an extra dimension into her interpretation of the songs.
"Big Yellow Taxi" was a highlight with a hard-swinging arrangement. "Edith and the Kingpin" was another effective interpretation, sounding a little like mid-70s Steely Dan. Most of the material was from Mitchell's most popular period in the 1970s. The exceptions were "Dawntreader" from her first album, "Song to a Seagull" from 1968 and "Be Cool" from 1982's Wild Things Run Fast. Finally, Skinner created her own song for Mitchell in honor of the latter's 64th birthday just the preceding day (11/7). Using the Beatles' "When I'm 64," she substituted her own lyrics paying respect to Mitchell.
The band was solid, with Bob Rebholz especially impressive on reeds, alternating between soprano sax and another instrument (unfamiliar to this reviewer) that looked like the progeny of the coupling of a clarinet and R2D2. The device had the size and shape of a clarinet, but its machine-like features were definitely androidian. The biggest difference between the instrument and its robotic progenitor was the sound it made in the hands of Rebholz. Rather than R2D2's buzzes, bloops and whirls, this instrument added grace and depth to the arrangements, at times practically channeling some of Mitchell's own past collaborators such as Tom Scott and Wayne Shorter.
It looks like Joni Mitchell has essentially given up touring (even if some of us haven't given up hope of one). Thus, it's especially important, not to mention satisfying, to have someone of Skinner's caliber keeping the spirit and flame alive.
Personnel: Lynn Skinner, vocals; Bob Schlesinger, piano; Ron Bland, acoustic and electric bass; Larry Thompson, drums; Bob Rebholz, reeds.