by Colin May
March 16, 2023
Guest contributor Colin May on "an absorbing evening that was a triumph for Hejira & particularly Hattie Whitehead. Credit to Hejira for creating the opportunity to hear these great songs played live"
Hejira feat. Hattie Whitehead celebrate Joni Mitchell
The Spin Jazz Club, The Tap Social, Botley, Oxford, 1st March 2023.
Hattie Whitehead vocals and guitar
Chris Eldred keyboard
Oli Weston tenor and soprano sax
Pete Oxley guitar,
Phil Hopkins percussion
Dave Jones bass guitar
Rick Finley drums
This was the official début of Hejira featuring Hattie Whitehead. As a nameless group they’d celebrated Joni Mitchell at The Spin in December in what then was expected to be a one-off performance. But such was the exhilarating success of that night and the demand for tickets that they were back as a named band and with tour dates in the diary on the very night when Joni Mitchell was presented with the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song 2023.
The band’s repertoire was from what is often called Joni Mitchell’s jazz period. The Spin’s organiser-in-chief, guitarist Pete Oxley said he was especially fond of Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Hejira’ (1976). He explained that the source for tonight though was the live double album ‘Shadows and Light’ (1980). It’s an album which does have several tracks from ‘Hejira’, and can be regarded as a partial summation of Mitchell’s jazz period. She recorded it with a stellar band with which she was touring : Pat Metheny guitar, Michael Brecker saxes, Jaco Pastorius bass guitar, Don Alias drums & percussion, Lyle Mays electric piano & synth with The Persuasions on backing vocals.
The key to tonight’s performance was Hattie Whitehead, a young singer- songwriter but no stranger to jazz as her father is saxophonist Tim Whitehead and it is reported that they sometimes perform together. She was superb. Her voice was strong and confident from her first entry in the opening number ‘Coyote’ through to the final number. Not only did she capture Joni Mitchell’s distinct vocal phrasing, so important in conveying the emotional content of the songs, but also Mitchell’s guitar style. She got inside the songs but without getting in the way of the songs.
‘Woodstock’ was the second number. Hejira’s performance conveyed that this song perhaps illustrates most sharply that the Joni Mitchell of 1979/80 was not the same as in 1970 when the song was written. No longer as upbeat as the original, tonight it was a slower, spacier, reflective ballad with drawn out vocal phrases, a Latin feel and a dreamy nostalgia maybe for the ‘Hippie Revolution’ that never materialised.
Next came ‘In France They Kiss on Main Street’, with it’s refrain, “Rollin’ rollin’ rock and rollin’ “, and Hejira did rock and roll for this one as they did again a little later for “Free Man in Paris” with it’s infectious melody.
The second half had some of the best known tunes from the Hejira album. There was a lovely delicate ‘Amelia’ with Hattie Whitehead almost solo accompanied by her own guitar and that of Pete Oxley. For the title track Oli Weston was on soprano sax and the rhythm section created a Latin vibe, and there was a spell-binding ‘Black Crow’.
My personal favourite of the night came in the first half, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, Charlie Mingus’ tribute to Lester Young to which Joni Mitchell added lyrics. Hattie Whitehead’s wonderful soulful vocal was echoed first by Oli Weston’s sax and then by Chris Eldred on keys. It was just great.
The flow of Mitchell numbers was broken by two high tempo instrumental numbers, one in each half,. The first a composition by guitarist Mike Walker, ‘A Real Embrace’ and the second by Pete Oxley, ‘The Surging Waves’. Both went down well with the enthusiastic audience. It was noticeable that there was more interaction between the instruments, than in the Joni numbers. Maybe the structure of her songs makes this difficult to happen.
This did not detract significantly though from what was an absorbing evening that was a triumph for Hejira and particularly Hattie Whitehead. Credit to Hejira for creating the opportunity to hear these great songs played live. It was a lot of fun.
Hejira celebrate Joni Mitchell forthcoming dates announced so far;
Sat 17 Jun St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden
Fri 23 Jun Cranleigh Arts Centre
Thu 13 July Oxford Arts Festival
Fri 3 Nov Wiltshire Music Centre
Sat 4 Nov Brewhouse Theatre & Arts Centre, Taunton
Fri 10 Nov The Platform, Morecambe
PETE OXLEY ADDS:
There are now three videos of the band ‘Hejira’ (Celebrating Joni Mitchell), just posted online! Here are the links:
The latter two in particular are, arguably, two Joni’s most beautiful songs and without a doubt, Hattie does them full justice!
These songs have been very nicely recorded and filmed, so if you can, please listen on top hifi or headphones!
Thanks to all of you in the audience that were at the last Hejira gig - some of you will be spotting yourselves in the vids!!blog comments powered by Disqus