Tag Archives: joni mitchell

MTH-V: Joni Mitchell Live

I know I’ve mentioned Joni a number of times on this blog. And much like my personal arrival to her music, I was exposed to her via a variety of secondary sources before diving deep into her own catalogue. Be it a couple friends who are devotees, Miles Electric: Another Kind of Blue, James Taylor, Tom Scott, Robert Downey Jr.‘s tenure on Ally McBeal, or my fondness for Love Actually, it seemed like she was always popping up somewhere in my periphery. So a few years ago I blindly purchased Court and Spark, and I quickly burned that entire album into my brain. (“Car On A Hill” is one of the best songs I own.) She always pleases, and my Joni collection and knowledge continues to grow.

Not only is Joni a top-notch songwriter, but she knows how to surround herself with first-rate musicians. While I often like to reference Shadows & Light, for which Joni uses a backing band of jazz giants, that’s far from the only example. She seems to know that by composing and singing she’s done her job, and therefore she doesn’t need to worry about being “shown up” by the other instrumentalists – that’s what they’re there for. Perhaps her decades-long fondness for Miles goes beyond the music, extending to his unparalleled skills as a bandleader. It definitely makes me wonder…

This video is of a live performance of the Hejira‘s title track in Japan. Her band includes the one and only Wayne Shorter as well as Pino Palladino. As with any context, when Wayne’s on stage, great things are sure to happen…

As a little bonus, here’s a rocket-fueled performance of Court and Spark‘s “Raised on Robbery” from 1974 by Joni with Tom Scott & The L.A. Express. Despite the annoying chirping (no doubt a holdover from transferring this damaged old recording to digital…), it’s the highest quality version of this particular performance I could find. Love it.

MTH-V: Blues Bros. Live: “Almost”

While not nearly as “historic” (for me) as last week’s video, here’s another hidden gem from years back. Believe me, I’m sure many of you are probably thinking Blues Brothers? It was a good movie, but really?! Yes, indeed! Not only was Blues Brothers a comedy classic, but it’s a popular pick among musicians (especially of the jazz, blues, and rock ilk). However, moving beyond the movie and SNL skits, the Blues Brothers Band was (and in some capacity continues to be) a killer rhythm and blues band. (Yes, the real R&B…) A great mix of a Memphis rhythm section and New York horns.

Luckily for Belushi and Aykroyd, they had the Saturday Night Live Band at their disposal when originally wanting to do their blues bees skits. Deciding to transform their skit into an actual band, they recruited a dream-team of studio and touring musicians, including (most of the names should be familiar):

Steve “The Colonel” Cropper – Guitar
Donald “Duck” Dunn – Bass
Steve “Getdwa” Jordan – Drums
Tom “Bones” Malone – Trombone & Saxophones
“Blue” Lou Marini – Saxophones
Matt “Guitar” Murphy – Guitar
Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin – Trumpet
Tom “Triple Scale” Scott – Saxophones
Paul “The Shiv” Shaffer – Keyboards

Anyone familiar with the backing musicians of popular music from the 1960s to present should see MANY familiar names. Cropper and Dunn were part of the house band for Stax Records (!!!), Marini has been with James Taylor for decades, Scott did some work with Joni Mitchell (he’s all over her historic Court and Spark), Steve Jordan is a top studio and touring drummer (recently collaborating with John Mayer), you see Malone every night with Letterman, and Paul Shaffer has played everywhere with everyone. Behind Jake and Elwood on the stage and in the recording booth is a Who’s Who of American popular music.

Aside from the movie soundtracks, there aren’t many recordings of the Blues Brothers Band. I picked up The Definitive Collection in probably 1997 and still listen to it quite a bit. (It’s great for late night driving.) Sure, John and Dan aren’t the world’s greatest singers, but the band more than makes up for it. The below video is of one of my favorite songs of theirs (a performance of which is included on The Definitive Collection). Assuming the poster included the correct date, this performance comes from New Year’s Eve 1978, meaning this gig was an opening set for the Grateful Dead at Winterland. “(I’ve Got Everything I Need) Almost” was originally written and performed by Canada’s Downchild Blues Band.

MTH-V: Michael Brecker

This past Friday (01.13) marked the fifth anniversary of Michael Brecker‘s death. His music and musicianship definitely touches me still. Not only was he one of the tenor saxophone’s greatest technicians, but he played with a deep intensity and emotional to match.

Of the many reasons to love Michael’s playing and ethic, one that particularly stands out to me is his stylistic versatility, having attained a great degree of commercial success in pop music while maintaining a career as a heavy, widely-respected jazz musician. His funk and fusion work with his brother Randy in the Brecker Brothers is of course widely known to most musicians, but his work with James Taylor, Joni Mitchell (if you aren’t familiar with Shadows and Light, go buy it right now), and Paul Simon exposed his name and playing to a much wider audience. (His solo on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is classic.) And then of course his more straight ahead and avant-garde jazz roots shone brightly in his solo work and that with his longtime collaborators in Saxophone Summit. (His playing was evidence of his deep love for Coltrane’s late period. In fact, it made his passing the day after Alice Coltrane‘s death that much more eerie.)

While there are hundreds of videos I could choose from, I’ve chosen only a few. This first video is from a Vienna performance of Herbie’s “The Sorcerer” with Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Willie Jones III. I saw Michael Brecker live with a variation of this band (with bassist Scott Colley and the always intense Terri Lyne Carrington on drums) a couple months before his disease was made public. Brecker was quite pale, and, though he spent much of the night sitting on a stool or offstage when not playing, he absolutely destroyed Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. Enjoy Herbie ripping it up at the top; Brecker’s solo starts at 3:55.

Just when you thought Brecker had no need for improvements, here’s an excerpt of a 1996 interview with Jazz’s web documentarian Bret Primack:

And what post remembering Michael would be complete with Brecker Brothers’ “Some Skunk Funk”? (With Mike Stern, drummer Dennis Chambers [whom you should recognize from the Stern/Berg post], bassist James Genus, and keyboardist George Whitty.) This is BURNIN’!