Joni Mitchell has had one of the most peculiar career arcs in the history of popular music. Since her first stint as a superstar in the making – from about 1967 to 1975 – her overall creative catalog of complex, challenging, ever-changing music has gone more or less unnoticed by the masses. Of course, this has been done by mutual agreement between artist and audience. Mitchell has no desire to pander (when she's slipped and tried, the results have been very mixed – 1985's poorly received Dog Eat Dog, for example) and the vast majority of the pop music buying public don't want to think when they listen to favored acts.
After more than a decade of de facto exile from the mainstream, Joni Mitchell has regained much of her media profile, if not her commercial impact, thanks to deserved if belated accolades from critics and music business peers.
Although this incredible live unit never recorded a proper studio album we do have this as a reminder of just what is possible. Joni the folkie briefly became Ms. Mitchell the jazz singer, supported by the formidable talents of Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker and Don Alias. Many of Mitchell's jazz flirtations are given the full treatment with musicians who understood both her and the genre. It is a staggering marriage of talents and wholly successful. There are even obligatory bonus solos from Pat and Don. They should have stayed together for at least another album.
After the expanded instrumental scale and sonic experimentation of Court & Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell reverses that flow for the more intimate, interior music on Hejira, which retracts the arranging style to focus on Mitchell's distinctive acoustic guitar and piano, and the brilliant, lyrical bass fantasias of fretless bass innovator Jaco Pastorius. Known for his furious, sometimes rococo figures beneath the music of Weather Report, Pastorius is tamed by Mitchell's cooler, more deliberate ballads: these meditations coax a far gentler, subdued lyricism from Pastorius, whose intricate bass counterpoints Mitchell's coolly elegant singing, especially on the sublime "Amelia," which transforms the mystery of Amelia Earheart into a parable of both feminism and romantic self-discovery. This isn't Mitchell at her most obviously ambitious, yet the depth of feeling, poetic reach, and musical confidence make this among the finest works in a very fine canon.