By Ed Enright | Published December 2020
Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s sophisticated compositions long have served as fuel for jazz artists who find inspiration in the alternate tunings and complex rhythms she has employed since her emergence as a folk-pop visionary in the 1960s. As her art matured in the 1970s, she began working with some of the top jazz players of her time, including Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. Her songs have been covered and reinterpreted countless times by musicians representing a wide range of genres—Hancock, Judy Collins, Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Annie Lennox, Tori Amos, Prince and Diana Krall among them.
Now comes a sparkling new recording by Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele that consists entirely of Mitchell repertoire, sparingly arranged for jazz quartet. Steele is reverential in his approach to the Mitchell songbook, his Harmon-muted trumpet evoking the singer’s distinctive, expertly controlled mezzo-soprano voice. The nine songs on Joni were written and recorded by Mitchell in the ’60s and ’70s, before her range began to descend into a smoky alto. With the sensitive support of bandmates Dave Milligan (piano/arranger), Calum Gourlay (bass) and Alyn Cosker (drums), Steele honors the familiar melodic contours and unrushed phrasing of classic songs like “Blue,” “Both Sides Now,” “A Case Of You” and “River.” These new arrangements leave Mitchell’s masterpieces wide open for smooth, soothing flights of jazz improvisation.