Friday, June 30, 2017

Joni Mitchell — Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter


   One of songwriters and great folk-rock singers who reached great worldwide fame as performing artist is representative of great Canadian American tradition, bright stage personality and guitarist Joni Mitchell. She is famous as singer and well known as performer, but her creative effort in songwriting was on the first place from the very beginning. With strong roots in folk and folk rock, she was close to jazz scene as well. She started as songwriter and folk clubs singer in sixties, her debut album Song to a Seagull was produced by David Crosby and released in March 1968 by Reprise label. She was author of all songs, singer, played guitar and piano in all accompaniments and designed album cover. Bass guitarist Stephen Stills played only one song but became her constant coworker and playing much more on her next albums. Releasing every year new album in five years she became an icon of folk rock.
   Shortly after Mitchell’s first folk rock records reach commercial success, she started to widen stylistic attitude. Consequently, her name was increasingly falling into category of jazz vocalists. It’s interesting process she was keeping the same position towards popular ballad and narrative poetry of rock songs changing only some elements of her musical style. In early seventies it was still somehow risky idea to get against actual trends. Folk rock albums made her famous, so experiments with other styles could eventually cost her losing some of her fans. So, she was moving to folk and jazz crossover in a mild way, adding more and more interesting musicians, and staying herself the same artistic personality. She was recording and touring with super league of jazz musicians. As time goes by she had considerably more listeners on jazz and some other ambitious genres of rock and pop music, but she was still associated with folk rock.
   After the end of Vietnam war in seventies, with social change driven by economic crisis, many artists were searching for new solutions of art representation as a space for culture discourse. This perspective was perfect for continuing some trends popular in sixties. Renewed ideas were consumed as backward wave of folk music. Joni Mitchell as many others was still on top of popularity. It really didn’t matter how innovative she was and how far her new songs were behind borders of the style, she was still considered as folk singer. Like she was intending to confirm this stereotype, in many performances she was still a singer with a guitar, or even a bard with natural vocal technique and nice melodies. Sometimes it had to be a real challenge to reach it in such natural way, and many of her project were stylized to fulfill this idea. This tendency was present in live performances while not clearly visible in Mitchell’s studio recordings, where she was more ambitious on intellectual and artistic level.

Joni Mitchell — Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977)
   One of her best works, published in December 1977 double LP album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter was also the one scandalously underestimated. Recorded for Asylum label in London, New York and Hollywood with huge group of musicians and various arrangements. Definitely, most significant element besides of Joni Mitchell’s voice and guitars was sound of Jaco Pastorius’ fretless bass. As a sideman he gave this music electrifying power of jazz phrasing, finding perfect balance with leader’s voice. In late seventies his sound was iconic element of Weather Report sound. Musicians from this band were saxophonist Wayne Shorter, percussionists Manolo Badrena, and Alex Acuña. Others were also known for their contribution in fusion jazz guitarist Larry Carlton, percussionist Airto Moreira, movie music composer, pianist Michel Colombier, lead singer from funk band Rufus Chaka Khan and drummer John Guerin known from early Frank Zappa’s albums.
   Restricted use of jazz idioms on Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter was visionary. It sounded like jazz moved back to it’s popular music roots. Even in simple songs, for example in Jericho, where Jaco Pastorius bass and Joni Mitchell’s guitar with drums by John Guerin and bongos by Don Alias create thick and intensive instrumental layer. In this fabric soprano sax by Wayne Shorter is so discrete and colorful as it sounds like just extra sound dimension. This corresponds with unusual melody, full of unexpected changes, based on irregular, free verse poetry. It gives a mind-blowing effect. In opposite example Paprika Plains we receive expanded composition spanning whole side B of first LP. Similar group of musicians (except absence of congas and Joni Mitchell plays piano) and symphony orchestra orchestrated by Michael Gibbs gives this composition solid formal frame. Even final jazz solo by Wayne Shorter runs with the whole composition like a cadenza. The other side of musical experience are The Tenth World and Dreamland, both featuring essentially percussion band. For experimenting with styles, balancing ambitious musical creations with intense poetry this album deserves four stars. I am giving four and a half for personal input of Jaco Pastorius – this is one of his best accomplishments.