Joni Mitchell certainly has gone far since June 1968 when I listened to the then emerging composer sing at New York's The Bitter End. Having become one of the honored greats of music, her numerous songs have been covered by many singers and instrumentalists. This includes jazz artists, which is appropriate since Mitchell herself wrote and performed jazz crossovers. The latest is from vocalist Laurie Antonioli, whose new album, Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light
, captures all the poetic nuances of Mitchell's compositions. Indeed, her phrasing and vibrato are often reminiscent of Mitchell, though her overall approach and interpretations are her own. Some tracks are quite distinct in voicing. Antonioli selected less familiar songs including one, Eastern Rain
, that Mitchell had not recorded (Fairport Convention did so in 1969), although the ubiquitous Both Sides Now
and the recently well-played River
are included. [Choices from Mitchell's early albums trigger wonderful memories.] Antonioli, after gaining performance experience with Joe Henderson, Bobby McFerrin, and especially Pony Poindexter, headed the Vocal Department at The Jazz Institute of Graz, Austria, and more recently of California Jazz Conservatory (Jazzschool). This, her fifth album, has her long-term band members Matt Clark handling piano, Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes; guitarist Dave MacNab; bassist John Shifflett; Jason Lewis on drums; and for added musical timbre and ethnic ornamentation Sheldon Brown on saxophones and clarinets. On the leading track, Theo Bleckmann adds some vocalise. These musicians, who were involved in arrangements, weave a mighty web that ably supports Antonioli with beautiful sonority and rhythmic flourishes. The sweet and clever piano and reed solos deserve listener's attention. Brown's Balkan clarinet in Eastern Rain in 7/8 meter brings this rare composition into the light. For mutual improvisational interaction, the album was recorded simultaneously with all musicians together, and the audio engineering is excellent. Joni Mitchell fans and jazz disciples will much appreciate this homage.