Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters - Review in New Yorker
Herbie Hancock - 'Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters - Review in New Yorker' image

by Steve Futterman September 17, 2007

Herbie Hancock’s new album, River: The Joni Letters, pays tribute to a pair of musical geniuses: Joni Mitchell, whose songs make up the album’s marrow, and Wayne Shorter, the extraordinary saxophonist and longtime Hancock collaborator who steals the recording. Working with a rotating cast of vocalists, Hancock, Shorter, and company tap into the moody and meditative nature of songs that work best when their musical poetry is respected. 

Hancock, who spent the sixties establishing himself as one of the most accomplished and inventive modern-jazz pianists, apparently tuned out Mitchell’s early folk albums. Apart from the title track and a thoroughly reworked “Both Sides Now,” Hancock trains his sights on Mitchell’s jazzier material, from “Court and Spark” (released in 1974) and beyond. Hancock keeps the album rooted in spare, predominantly acoustic arrangements, yet avoids the temptation to transform Mitchell’s songs into mere vessels for charging improvisations.