Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Joni Mitchell 11: Mingus

Joni’s quest to be taken seriously as a musician hit a personal high when she began collaborating with legendary jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus. Although he died before their joint album could be finished, the irascible legend did provide her some music to embellish with lyrics and arrangements, resulting in the album named for him.
Mingus is as challenging as any post-Blue Joni album, leaning heavily on the contributions of players more commonly associated with the likes of Weather Report. The album begins with an audio-verité snippet from a birthday party, and various Mingus “raps” are inserted as transitions throughout the album. They do provide some context, with his spirited conversation contrasting with the mostly low-key fusion jazz.
“God Must Be A Boogie Man” is the first real song, Jaco Pastorius on bass with Joni’s guitar providing the rhythm, though the nasal group holler of the title sullies the mood. “A Chair In The Sky” is dominated at first by Herbie Hancock’s electric piano, but soon Wayne Shorter on sax joins the combo as the players (and singer) fill up the sound picture. At this point she can still hit those high notes too. “The Wolf That Lives In Lindsay” is percussively played on her acoustic, but the sound of wolves howling through it distracts from the vocals. It does provide something of an effect of playing your guitar out on the lonesome prairie. “Sweet Sucker Dance” is a lengthy poetic rumination, and the festivities finally pick up on “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines”, with a spirited horn arrangement by Jaco and Joni’s scat-style vocals. Arguably the most daring piece is the last, the now-standard “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” given new lyrics by Joni, sticking to the original melody.
“Dry Cleaner”, “The Wolf” and some of the raps aside, Mingus is an easy album to listen to, but difficult to retain. While nothing will have you reaching for the skip button (or tone arm), it demands patience, and sometimes that’s not possible.

Joni Mitchell Mingus (1979)—3

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