Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford Upon Avon
Just as natural as the weather; the band that calls itself Hejira.
We booked our seats for this about 6 months ago, just as they went on sale. Friends who booked a week or so later were nine rows behind us – the place had sold out fast. I’ve looked forward to hearing these songs played with the sort of musicianship and care they deserve ever since I bought our tickets, having been a Joni Mitchell fan since I first heard Big Yellow Taxi on the Light programme one weekend in 1970.
The set list was mostly made up of songs chosen from the four sides of Shadows & Light, the double live album that followed Joni’s album tribute to Mingus, possibly one of her least loved experiments. Before that, as Afterworders will mostly be aware, she’d had a run of completely staggering albums from Court & Spark through to Don Juan’s via Hejira. The fact that it is this last named LP that the band have chosen as their moniker says a lot – it’s laden with jewels. After Shadows & Light, she made a move to Geffen records and put out a couple of, for me anyway, slightly lesser releases, and then came up with something of a return to form with Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm in 1988. There have been many albums since then, sprinkled with genius and far better than anyone had any right to expect them to continue to be. But, as the existence of this band proves, Shadows & Light probably represents something close to the turning point of her peak at the start of the eighties.
If you are familiar with, and love, any of the albums I’ve mentioned above that preceded Shadows & Light, then this band will astonish you. You can follow the link I’ve provided in the comments and read about the musicians it contains, and in particular you can hear Hattie Whitehead’s pitch-perfect, soulful and confident rendition of Joni’s vocal clarity and delivery of lyrics that continue to evoke cinematic imagery and emotional understanding.
My only reservation about last night’s superb gig was that the drums were far too loud in that venue’s space; it doesn’t lend itself to a sound engineer being able to balance out a robust drummer’s presence. Don’t get me wrong, Rick Finlay is a great drummer, no doubt about that, but in that auditorium he was simply too loud for a performance that, for me, was all about Hattie Whitehead’s utterly sublime vocals and understated guitar. When I could hear her, I could hear every word, every note. When she was drowned out I was listening to a capable jazz outfit having a blast, but it was no longer paying tribute to Joni’s songs. I’d still go and see them again, mind you, for the magical moments were eyes-closed-good.
I listened again to my favourite sides of Shadows & Light this morning, and I’d forgotten how fine it sounds. Thanks to an evening with Hejira, its back on rotation at the Foxy Hi-Fi corner. Joni’s music hasn’t been with me quite from the forceps to the stone, but after over half a century, it’s still a powerful presence in my life.
At the time of writing this, there are nine not-yet-sold-out gigs left in their UK tour – if you can get yourself along to see any of them, I think you’ll come away very pleased you did so, and maybe you’ll dream of 747s over geometric farms.
300 fans of Joni and jazz, there to hear the music and celebrate how lucky we are to have shared some years with the woman’s work.
It made me think..
I’m going to play Shadows & Light at home tomorrow.