There is something riveting about this album Both Sides of Joni by Janiece Jaffe [who has, since its release, sadly, passed away] and Monika Herzig. Something, that is, that makes it almost the most perfect manner of interpreting the timeless music of a great artist. It is a magical album of a small selection of songs by the great Joni Mitchell. The magic is in the simplicity of the interpretative idea, which – oddly enough should require no magic at all. Truth be told, there is nothing that can be changed, altered, re-imagined about Miss Mitchell’s songs. When she was created, she was a singular-minted creation.
The poetics of her artistry are unique. Mitchell is a lyrical genius poet – like William Butler Yeats, for example – one of a kind. Her harmonic conception is inimitable. Much has been said of her method of open tuning of the strings of her guitar. Rhythmically inventive she didn’t simply employ odd-metres but pulsed her music as if to echo her own cardiac arrythmia, which may race, slow down, or almost be brought to a relative halt – all of which to stay in step with her heart-soft, bitter-sweet emotions. As a result of this novel artistic conception – and at a certain level – even the classic concept of dynamics became superfluous.
In recent years Miss Mitchell and her music have been celebrated by a number of artists – many of whom were convinced that they were “re-imagining” her work which, one presumes, means to suggest that [in each case] Miss Mitchell’s music was, somehow, being made new, or different or whatever… Truth be told Miss Mitchell’s music could never be made new; something that has a timeless quality [such as Miss Mitchell’s music] remains perpetually new.
Given this challenge, Miss Herzig – who arranged all these pieces – came at them rather brazenly, from an acute angle; embellishing melodic aspects by writing beautifully ornamented cadenzas, such as expressed by the great Greg Ward on alto saxophone, on the opening [cadenza] of the heartbreaking song, Help Me. Miss Herzig [again, wisely] hasn’t even tried to mimic Miss Mitchell’s gliding, prosaic rhythmic inventions, or tried to re-invent them. Rather Miss Herzig, probably having de-coded [somewhat] Miss Mitchell’s mystical artistry allowed her [Miss Herzig’s] rhythmic conception to echo the pulse of Miss Mitchell’s emotional cardiac arrythmia.
And thus Miss Herzig and Miss Jaffe have imbued this music with the echoes of their own feelings, substituting Miss Mitchell’s rhythmic expressivity with their own deeply-felt emotional reactions to Miss Mitchell’s songs. Moreover, Miss Jaffe has allowed the poetry of Miss Mitchell’s lyrics to shine gem-like, through perfect articulation, in the lyrical glissandi of her phrasing – all of which has resulted in shining a new light – quite literally – on Miss Mitchell’s work. The manner in which she has glided her way into the long inventions of Both Sides Now and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and sculpted the sensual lines of River, or given wing to the words of Sweet Bird.
This speaks to the uncommon artistry of both Monika Herzig and – more especially – the eloquent ingenuity of Janiece Jaffe’s vocalastics. Together these women have celebrated the timeless artistry of Miss Mitchell by reproducing nine songs – of which Help Me and The Hissing of Summer Lawns yield the most indelible impressions of Miss Mitchell. The truly gorgeous settings of both [songs] act as the work’s emotional fulcrum. Picking up on the intensity of everything are the other performers too, each of whom give of themselves emotionally and idiomatically as well…
Music – 1: Help Me; 2: Both Sides Now; 3: I Think I Understand; 4: River; 5: Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow; 6: My Old Man; 7: The Hissing of Summer Lawns; 8: Sweet Bird; 9: The Circle Game
Musicians – Janiece Jaffe: vocals; Monika Herzig: piano; Jeremy Allen: bass [1 – 8]; Peter Kienle: bass ; Cassius Goens: drums; Greg Ward: alto saxophone [1 – 3, 5 – 8]; Carolyn Dutton: violin [3, 4]
Released – 2023
Label – Acme Records [JM 001]
Runtime – 1:00:09