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JONI MITCHELL - Hejira cover
4.22 | 9 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1976

Filed under Vocal Jazz


A1 Coyote 5:00
A2 Amelia 6:00
A3 Furry Sings The Blues 5:03
A4 A Strange Boy 4:15
A5 Hejira 6:35
B1 Song For Sharon 8:30
B2 Black Crow 4:20
B3 Blue Motel Room 5:03
B4 Refuge Of The Roads 6:37


Joni Mitchell / guitars, vocals
Jaco Pastorius / bass
Larry Carlton / guitar
Bobbye Hall / percussion
Victor Feldman / vibes
John Guerin / drums
Max Bennett / bass
Neil Young / harmonica
Abe Most / clarinet
Chuck Domanico / bass
Chuck Findley / horn
Tom Scott / horn

About this release

Asylum Records ‎– 7E-1087 (US)

Recorded At – A&M Studios

Thanks to Chicapah, snobb for the updates


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This album coincided with a time in my life when I was at a very low point mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Therefore I will always associate it with those feelings no matter how much water has passed under that dark bridge. I remember what drew me to it initially, though. The fact that Jaco Pastorius was involved was enough to make me gladly part with my paltry cash reserves for a copy. His work with Weather Report in particular had elevated him into the top two or three bass players on my list and I was extremely curious as to how he’d interacted with the mysterious Joni Mitchell. She had long since abandoned her frail, waif-like folk singer persona and had boldly ventured into the fringe territories of modern jazz since the mid 70s. Her previous album, the complex and sophisticated “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” had, frankly, left me scratching my head but that’s more my fault than hers. I simply wasn’t into what Joni was into at the time but a lot of my musician friends were totally floored by it. It kinda sailed over my pea-sized brain. But in November of ’76 when “Hejira” was released I was wallowing in a paralyzing state of abject disillusionment with everything and this record had something to say about every aspect of my debilitating moodiness. I’d been fired from a band I’d been with for 7 months, I was heartbroken over foolishly letting a fine, fine woman just walk away a year earlier and I considered myself and my music career a total failure. I sensed before I heard a single note that Mitchell knew what I was going through but I would’ve bought this disc for the frigid aura conveyed by the cover art alone. My existence was an ice-covered lake, too.

Joni had written the material while driving across America from Maine to L.A., hence the title which, in Arabic, means “journey.” I’d been on the move from town to town for most of the preceding years myself so it came as no surprise that her observations were not foreign to my own and listening to her sing her wry, insightful lyrics was akin to having an intimate heart-to-heart with a close friend. While her pensive words are often delivered in a quasi-abstract, stream-of-thought style the music is smooth, slick and contemporary as it glides quietly over the snowy terrain she chose to present it in. To say the album is haunting is an understatement yet there’s an honorable place for that spirit in jazz and these tracks personify it as well as any other I’ve heard.

She opens with the sleek “Coyote.” The lack of a drum kit is no problem because Pastorius’ elegantly energetic bass work propels this jazzy, Latin-tinged song fluidly without ever getting in the way of Joni’s intricate vocal phrasing. She rattles off penetrating lines with ease as in “I tried to run away myself/to run away and wrestle with my ego/and with this flame/you put here in this Eskimo.” (I could relate) “Amelia” follows and this time it’s Larry Carlton’s expressive guitar playing in concert with Victor Feldman’s barely-audible vibes that creates the overcast sky enveloping Mitchell’s wistful lyrics. “Maybe I’ve never really loved/I guess that is the truth/I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes/and looking down on everything,” she croons. (Think that didn’t hit home?) A basic three-piece combo featuring her, John Guerin on drums and Max Bennett on bass give “Furry Sings The Blues” a change of scenery and the tune’s odd chord structure is very unconventional. Guest Neil Young’s sporadic harmonica riffs grant the track the barest hint of dynamics. The words describe a time gone by with a sad slant. “Diamond boys and satin dolls/Bourbon laughter/ghosts/history falls/to parking lots and shopping malls/as they tear down old Beale Street,” she intones.

Carlton’s inventive guitar once again commands your attention in the music for “A Strange Boy” as he deftly dances around Joni’s stringent acoustic guitar strumming and Bobbye Hall’s unadorned percussion. “He keeps referring back to school days/and clinging to his child/fidgeting and bullied/his crazy wisdom holding on to something wild,” she sings. On “Hejira” Jaco is back, generating seamless runs that thread in and out of Mitchell’s ethereal chords. As on most of these tracks there is no discernable catchy melody or hook that sticks out in the composition. It’s like a jazzy soundtrack to accompany a musical poetry reading. “I know no one’s going to show me everything/we all come and go unknown/each so deep and superficial/between the forceps and the stone,” she states. (Feel the chill?) The return of Guerin’s drum kit for “Song For Sharon” is welcome at this juncture because this song has a slightly more aggressive groove and disposition. Yet it’s Joni’s effortless, gracefully-matured voice that dominates this lengthy cut. “I can keep my cool at poker/but I’m a fool when love’s at stake/because I can’t conceal emotion/what I’m feeling’s always written on my face,” she confesses. (Me, too.)

“Black Crow” is the most experimental and exciting tune on this record. Pastorius and Carlton team up to do some amazing things throughout this eclectic number that runs steadily without the benefit of drums or percussion. “In search of love and music/my whole life has been/illumination/corruption/and driving, driving, driving…” she cries. “Blue Motel Room” is the most conventional song of the bunch. It’s a jazzy blues number that, in my mind, begs for some sultry piano and sleazy sax but she didn’t go down that road. It still offers a lazy, more carefree atmosphere possibly intended to counter the rest of the record’s overwhelming melancholy air and I can’t fault her for that sentiment. “Refuge of the Roads” closes the album with a track where Pastorius and Guerin’s rhythm section is very soft-handed. It’s good that this is the final song because the unwavering sameness in the sound and timbre of the production finally starts to be tiresome despite the inclusion of Tom Scott and Chuck Findley’s horns. “It was all so light and easy/till I started analyzing/and I brought on my old ways/a thunderhead of judgment/ was gathering in my gaze,” she sings. (Guilty!) Jaco ends it with some fabulous fretless fingerings that remind me of why I adored his technique so much.

“Hejira” didn’t sell as well as either “Court and Spark” or “Hissing” did but it still managed to climb up to #13 on the LP charts without a hit single to attract attention. To her fans it was apparent that scaling the Top 40 held no interest for Joni Mitchell and she was now devoted to expressing her inmost thoughts through her ever-evolving art. Jazz had beckoned her and she had succumbed and surrendered to its siren-like lure. As for my personal relationship with this album, it’s a complicated one and I confess a reticence about listening to it. Not because of a disturbing flaw in the musicianship or songwriting (although the dearth of variety can weary one) but because I identify it so closely with the shadow-filled valley I was stumbling through when this record came out, landed on my turntable and stayed there for several months. Don’t blame Joni, though. This is a superb collection of tunes and a highlight of her illustrious and admirable career. Just because I harbor a neurotic phobia about it doesn’t mean you will.

Members reviews

Flashback: About 15 years ago it was not as easy as today, the internet world already existed and already gave all the signs of what the future would be like for music, but it still was not what it is today: a click and we heard a record...

So, my first real exposure to the music of Joni Mitchell was with what I could lay my hands on: and it was the 'Dog Eat Dog' album that I accidentally found in a second hand shop in the center of São Paulo for less than a dollar.

Well, now I know that this is not even close the best way to know Joni's music, Dog Eat Dog is pretty bad.

Back to the present. A few days ago I was watching for the second time the documentary Jaco and she appeared there talking about the album Hejira (in which Jaco Pastorius plays), and suddenly I remembered how much I love her music and that I had not yet heard Hejira.

Joni Mitchell has always been a goddess as a songwriter, her way of playing the guitar (with several different tunings) open new melodies and her compositions gain an even more original air. It's no different in Hejira. This record sounds so modern and up to date, even today. It fits in with Jazz Fusion, which had been developed a few years prior and was about to open doors with names like Weather Report, Return to Forever and Al Di Meola, but it is also Folk and it works, very well!

Hejira is a pleasure to hear from beginning to end and worth the hearing.

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  • DannyBoogie
  • JimmyJazz
  • Fant0mas
  • Vano
  • chrijom
  • andyman1125
  • Zarathustra

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