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music • 27.07.13

The other day I watched Shadows & Light, a film of a Joni Mitchell concert recorded in 1979 at the Santa Barbara Bowl in California. I’d known the live album well but had never seen the concert. I wouldn’t normally use such superlatives but I can truly say it was one of the best performances ever.

The filming perfectly captured the open air audience which was of similar age to us at the time. The sound by Andy Johns (recently deceased) was a masterclass in audio production, flawlessly capturing a star-cast band of virtuosos including Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker. Joni led the group with elegant poise and a sassy confidence.

I would say that Shadows & Light was the culmination of Joni Mitchell’s golden era. Her musical trajectory had much influenced my own, from acoustic troubadour at the beginning of the 70s decade to jazz fusion at the end of it. The concert at Santa Barbara saw an artist at her peak supported by a bunch of top-drawer players some of whom were themselves coming close to legendary.

Mitchell’s fall from grace was on the cusp. Jamming with jazzers was a step too far for popular and commercial taste apparently. But I admired her all the more for it at a time when Weather Report was a more likely presence on my turntable than Duran Duran. From vinyl to CD to iPod she has remained in my top gallery of favourites, a classic artist from a rich period when stellar musicianship in contemporary music was still something to be celebrated. Watching the film reminded me of that and just how stunningly brilliant Joni Mitchell was and still remains over thirty years later.

written after seeing Joni's DVD of

Shadows & Light for the first time

Somehow they managed to fuck up the sound on the DVD - how I can’t imagine! I replaced it on these clips here with the excellent live album version. Being essentially the same recording the sync is close but not perfect. Andy Johns can rest peacefully.

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