LIVE: “Shadows and Light: A Jazz Tribute to Joni Mitchell” @ Caffe Lena, 8/11/18
Review and photographs by Rudy Lu
Caffe Lena and Michael Eck produced a jazz tribute to Bob Dylan last summer, and this year they’ve done the same with Joni Mitchell.
Joni Mitchell is an artist that defies categorization. Starting off in the singer-songwriter genre, she expanded her palette to include jazz/rock and electronic influences and painting. This lack of definitive categories leaves her timeless music to a wide range of interpretations in the broad spectrum of improvisational music known as jazz.
The George Muscatello Trio played music from the Hejira and Mingus albums, both heavily jazz influenced with jazz musician accompaniment. The opener was “Amelia,” Joni’s composition concerning Amelia Earhart and solo journeys. The original vocals were declarative; Shiri Zorn sang the lyrics smoothly with guitarist George Muscatello and percussionist Brian Melick accompanying. “Sweet Sucker Dance,” with music written by Charlie Mingus and lyrics by Mitchell, followed, a highly emotional song celebrating life by a dying Mingus. “A Strange Boy,” a more obscure song from Hejira, closed their set. The band took the most liberties with this in comparison to the original. There was a driving beat with Muscatello playing the lower registers of his guitar, Zorn scatting and then singing in a Mideastern manner.
Peter Davis, Don Young and Mike LoMaestro brought a less cerebral twist to the music. “Both Sides Now” was played as a waltz complete with klezmer and Dixieland influences with Davis on clarinet and vocals. “Big Yellow Taxi” had a calypso beat to it. “Sometimes I’m Happy,” a swing tune covered by Mitchell, translated easily into a dance number. The Lambert, Hendricks and Ross tune “Twisted” (about playing games with a psychoanalyst) was sung with delight and humor by Peter Davis (the Mitchell version included Cheech and Chong). Jazz singer Jeanne O’Connor was then introduced to sing “Circle Game” (sing along) and a truly swinging version of Mitchell’s celebration of life, “Chelsea Morning.”
Instrumental acoustical guitar is not an obvious way to interpret Joni Mitchell, but it was done right by Jim Mastrianni and Hui Cox performing guitar duo interpretations of Mitchell’s music. They tackled “Flight Tonight,” “Wild Things Run Fast,” “Free Man in Paris” and “A Case of You.” It was the first time this duo had performed together.
The evening closed with a jazz trio consisting of three prominent young jazz musicians – Lecco Morris on piano, Vince Fazio on drums and Ken McCabe on tenor sax. They presented their interpretations of “River,” “Carey” and “Both Sides Now” with Jeanne O’Connor joining them on stage for vocals.
A evening of wildly different interpretations of the work of Joni Mitchell – as diverse as the music scene in Greater Nippertown.
GO HERE to see more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…