Joni MITCHELL (b. 1943) The Fiddle and the Drum (2007)
rec. 8 February 2007, Jubilee Auditorium, Calgary, Alberta,
Canada ARTHAUS MUSIK 101347 [115:26]
Joni Mitchell is one of the most important poet/philosophers
who grew out of the 60s hippy scene, creating music which
had a social conscience, at a time when the expression
social conscience didn't exist. Big Yellow Taxi is
all about corporate America destroying Maw and Paw's dream.
She fully understood the youth movement within a larger
context; We are stardust, we are golden and we got to
get ourselves back to the garden, she wrote in Woodstock,
the anthem for a whole generation.
It's over 40 years since her first LP appeared
and although her recorded legacy isn't huge, what there
is is of great significance and infinite importance. As
the hippy chick who told us about the excitement of the Chelsea
Morning, and grew in stature and sang of loss, of love – Amour,
mama – whilst meditating on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart - for
a real treat check out the Shadows and Light live
album where she performs a truly incandescent version of Amelia which
is highlighted by a transcendental solo from Pat Metheny
- finding herself to be a mature woman pondering on where
it all went in the beautiful Chinese Café. It’s
a rich legacy and it cannot be ignored at any cost.
Because I am a big fan of Joni Mitchell, anything
she does is of interest to me and this ballet, which was
the brainchild of Jean Grand-Maitre and Mitchell, promised
much; it is based on Mitchell's well known concerns of
environmental neglect and the warring nature of mankind.
Set to music both old and new, conceived for a small band
with Mitchell's unique vocals leading proceedings, this
ballet is in nine, brief, tableaux, set on an empty stage
in front of a continuing video behind and above the dancers – which
you cannot always see during the performance so, very sensibly,
a separate track of this video alone, together with the
music, has been included on the DVD. The stage is consistently
dark, light coming from their bodies of the dancers themselves.
There is no scenery and there are no props except the occasional
soldier's hard hats. So visuals and our prior knowledge
of Mitchell's interests go together to point the way as
to where the performance is going to take us.
The burning question is exactly how much do the
music and the dance relate to each other and do they really
work together? There is much to enjoy in the abstract movement
of the dancers, there is little that is overt or obvious – except
the Christ figure in Passion Play – and most of the piece
moves in a fairly medium paced way, the music all being
of a relaxed tempo. This is, of course, one of the joys
of popular music in that it can be so radically transformed,
and an up–tempo number can exist, equally satisfactorily,
as a ballad. However, having written that I have to say
that this freedom can also work against the music. Take
the song For the Roses, one of my favourites amongst
her works, a meditation on the fickleness of fame and fandom.
On the eponymous album it is a quick, muted, reflection,
in the ballet it is blown out of all proportion and sense.
My big problem with the whole enterprise is that the music
is so bland, with everything being done in the same way,
with the identical, or similar, instrumentation. Mitchell
is one of the most varied of all popular music composers
yet we hear none of this here – the whole piece never smiles.
One other point concerning the music. It is almost de rigueur
to, when performing a song live, vary the vocal line, sometimes
out of all recognition. Here, we have a 21st century, very
funky, version of Big Yellow Taxi, which is used
as an encore, which would be totally unrecognisable if
one were reliant on the tune for recognition.
But all that aside I have to say that I really
enjoyed this work. The music is of the highest quality,
as one would expect from an artist of Mitchell's stature,
and the dance is suitably intriguing so as to keep one
wondering what we will see next. At the end we are left
with the imagine of a young child giving the hippy peace
sign with her hand – Joni Mitchell has come a long way
artistically since Song for a Seagull in 1967, but
the young hippy girl is still there.
Apart from the ballet, the DVD includes short
interviews with Mitchell and Maitre and dancers Kelley
McKinlay and Nicole Caron, as well as director of filming
Mario Rouleau, the complete Cyclops video and the images
for the Green Flag Song.
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