August 2003

Joni Mitchell - Shadows and Light
Shout! Factory 30161
Released: 2003

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***
Image Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

This exciting concert disc was shot during an historic 1979 tour. Joni Mitchell was at the peak of her powers, just having released Mingus, an album that was preceded by Hejira and The Hissing of Summer Lawns. These now-classic programs had seen her progress from the folk-oriented successes of albums like Court and Spark and For the Roses to a sound that was jazz influenced. This period culminated in Mingus, with its tribute to the same manifested as "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."

Though the audio CD of the tour proves that Mitchell did include songs from earlier periods, such as "Woodstock," the video program concentrates on the three albums mentioned above, giving the enthusiastic crowd favorites from Hejira and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, while introducing new songs from Mingus.

The band for the tour was a dream, including rockers like Mitchell, who could easily cross over into jazz. Pat Metheny was on hand as guitarist, Lyle Mays aced the keyboards, Don Alias zapped drums, Michael Breker added his soulful saxophone, and the legendary, late, great Jaco Pastorius held down the fort with strong, rhythmic bass lines, also providing an amazing virtuoso solo number. The playing is so uniformly good that it is obvious everyone enjoyed working together, and the video clearly shows this.

Mitchell is just edgy enough to get the songs across with ultimate impact, yet she and Metheny, though obviously rehearsed, work together in the relaxed manner of a jam session. It is hard to pick memorable moments from a concert such as this, where everything is stellar, but standout performances include Jaco’s solo, Mitchell’s semi-scat, on the mark rendition of "Dry Cleaner From Des Moines," and Mitchell, Mays, and the Persuasions bopping "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

There’s quite a bit of post-production video, some of which seems obtrusive and unnecessary, especially the ice skating sequence in "Hejira," and the coyote scenes in -- what else? -- "Coyote." On the other hand, the film of Amelia Earhart works well in "Amelia."

This concert was available on Pioneer laserdisc in the early days of that format. The video here is greatly improved, and is sharper and more detailed while retaining the intrinsic warmth of the original release. The audio is no miracle, but it is quite a bit better than the laserdisc. Of the two options presented, I found the 5.1 channel preferable. In spite of proclamations stating that the 2.0 PCM was stereo, its sound came almost entirely from the center channel of my system. The 5.1 spread things out a little, resulting in extra clarity without exaggeration. The vocals and the guitars sound very good, but the drums still lack the high frequencies that would give them ultimate sheen.

There’s some footage here not included on the original laserdisc along with a supplement that includes still photographs shot during the tour. Shadows and Light remains as one of the best concert videos of the last 30 years, and it’s good to have it back in such a well-mastered edition.