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Not quite Joni Mitchell, but Jessica Molaskey and friends come close


Jessica Molaskey, "Portraits of Joni" (Ghostlight Records). The only thing wrong with this tribute to Joni Mitchell is that Joni Mitchell herself isn't the singer.

These are first-rate settings and arrangements about some of her greatest songs, everything from "Help Me," "Blue," "Raised on Robbery" and "Both Sides Now" to "The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines," "In France They Kiss On Main Street" and "Marcie." Everyone knows that Joni Mitchell's extended musical family includes Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter (and used to include Jaco Pastorius when he was alive).

In keeping with Joni's way of doing things, Molaskey here gets great contributions from Larry Goldings, Randy Brecker, Harry Allen and John Pizzarelli, who's the co-producer and who happens to be Molaskey's husband. What's most impressive about this first-rate jazz record of Joni Mitchell's best is that Molaskey isn't a jazz singer really at all but rather a Broadway singer more apt to be found in a Sondheim Play or a revival of "The Most Happy Fella."

When she and her husband collaborate in cabaret performances at the Cafe Carlyle, they're known to sell out the place for months. You can hear why on this record. No one's voice is like Joni's--not only on her own work but on some of the great classics of the Great American Songbook, too (hear her masterpiece "Both Sides Now").

But if you can't have Joni Mitchell singing her own work, you're not going to find people any better to do it than Mr. and Mrs. Pizzarelli and their friends.

3.5 stars (out of four)


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