How to approach the musical concept of ‘The Soul Of Joni Mitchell’? Firstly, find a versatile, but focussed singer like Gina Foster – her credits include Eric Clapton and Sinead O’Connor – with the requisite vocal range, an intuitive understanding of the lyrics and a strong personality to make the most of Joni’s more detailed portraitures.
Secondly, gather together a band of top players with a willingness to delve deep into a catalogue of music that shifts from confessional singer-songwriter mode to narrative driven, jazz fusion and outright experimentation.
Finally save your arguments about the set list for the back stage area, before embarking on a 2 set show that takes its point of departure from 1974′s ‘Court and Spark’, and for the most part focuses on that jazzy period when Mitchell left behind her raw emotions and slipped into the Steely Dan world of detached musical brilliance.
Although that move undoubtedly alienated her older fans, it is that musical quantum leap which gave her the unassailable status of a musical giant that the band is exploring tonight.
Mix all those elements together in front of a late night, up-market Chelsea crowd, and you have a captivating evening of world class music, including Gina’s sublime vocal styling and a set list anchored by bass player Steve Pearce, who on several occasions evokes Jaco Pastorious’s glue like bass lines.
And therein lies a tale. You can almost feel the main body of the crowd making the different musical connections, while the front row is populated by the fans who hang on to every word of Joni’s intricate stories.
The two musical strands seamlessly combine in a show that draws the crowd into a musical journey full of interwoven word plays and melodic sweeps, counterweighted by jazzy arrangements.
The band is the glorious sum of its intricate parts, from former Van Morrison and Dylan guitarist Ronnie Johnson’s shifting tones and snaking guitar lines, to his son Patrick, who brings unexpected grandeur on his first major solo of the night on ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ . He’s predominantly an electric guitarist who like his dad, switches to acoustic when the song demands a more retained approach .
The rhythm section of bassist Steve Pearce and the impressive dep drummer Ian ‘Lanto’ Thomas lock into the opening groove of ’Help Me’, which sparks the first solo of the night by Mike Moran on electric piano.
Gina Foster makes the most of the song’s subtle textures and switches to a more urgent delivery of the colourful narrative of ‘Coyote’, over brushed strokes and fretless bass.
The confessional ‘Case Of You – from the ‘Blue’ album – is given an airy band workout with a clean toned solo from Ronnie who brings real vitality to the song.
There are several moments when the band’s attention to detail, from the delivery of an essential note to the guitar and keyboards interplay triggers the listener’s imagination, but the imagery gently subsides as Gina adds a defining line.
Her interpretive skills preside over a series of dense narratives that she tells us are hard to remember. But she’s unflappable and she attacks each song with gusto, clarity of meaning and an intuitive understanding, no more so than on her quasi scat singing on the jaunty ‘Dry Cleaner From Des Moines’.
Bass player Steve Pearce is inevitably at the heart of the dreamy ‘Hejira’, as Gina nuances the piece perfectly. There’s a magical moment when she voices the line: “there’s comfort in melancholy”, as Pearce adds a throbbing bass note that evokes lyrical emotion, before the piece quietly comes to rest with 3 taps of Thomas’s cymbal, in a moment of musical perfection
Foster also brings her own personality to bear on the dark lyrics of ‘Trouble Child’ and later revels on the reflective ‘Chinese Cafe’, complete with the ‘Unchained Melody mid-section.
There’s another significant bass figure on the biblical themed ‘Jericho’ which Gina phrases beautifully.
Ronnie switches to acoustic on ‘Edith & the Kingpin, on the perfect meeting of voice and band, as Gina ‘s pristine diction and expressive phrasing paints a wordsmith’s picture over an undulating arrangement.
Suddenly there’s a chronological rupture and we’re back to the early catalogue, as Gina hovers and flutters on the immaculate ‘Both Sides Now.’
And as we move into the home straight and whoops and hollers ring out from the crowd in appreciation of the solos, the band delivers a collective cathartic release with the positively upbeat ‘Carey’, on which Gina finishes with a beaming smile that quite rightly suggests job done!
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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