Written by Benedict Valuks.
Legendary pianist, composer and bandleader Herbie Hancock teamed up with the undeniable talent of Corinne Bailey Rae in a performance of Joni Mitchell‘s River, a song originally recorded for Mitchell’s 1971 album, ‘Blue’.
The performance also features the skills of Wayne Shorter on the saxaphone, Tal Wilkenfeld on the bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on the drums. Between them, these three musicians have performed with the likes of Jeff Beck, Chick Corea, John Mayer, Prince, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Sting, Leonard Cohen, and many more. Also, having worked with Mitchell in the past, Wayne Shorter and Vinnie Colaiuta played a key role in preserving the essence of original recording.
In Joni Mitchell‘s original we hear a woman contemplating a recent romantic break-up, reflected by the sparse musical accompaniment consisting of a mere piano paired with the power of Mitchell’s voice. Hancock’s Abbey Road session also offers significantly more depth through the use of drums and a bass, alongside Wayne Shorter on the saxophone. However Hancock’s skillful use of these additional instruments offers this depth without jeopardising the feel of Mitchell’s original formula.
Hancock seamlessly incorporates his own distinctive style into the performance, creating a piano piece with a much jazzier color than the original. As for the vocals, it was always going to be a challenging task for Bailey Rae to do Mitchell justice, but she succeeds. Instead of trying to emulate the vocal power and range of Mitchell she stays true to the vocal style that has made her the artist she is now. Notably softer than Mitchell, Bailey Rae’s voice perfectly complements the piece.
Overall the rendition offers a more relaxed, jazzy version of one of Joni Mitchell’s most famous songs; a perfect tribute to one of music’s most influential female artists.
The song is just one track from Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, released in 2007 as a homage to Hancock’s long-time friend.