Photo of band Hejira performing at The Marrs Bar

Music Spoken Here Review: Hejira – Celebrating Joni Mitchell
The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, Thursday 27th June

After two years and 31 shows at The Marrs Bar, the audience reached the ‘magic 100’ for the first time for promoter Music Spoken Here, as people from across the West Midlands and Wales came out for Hejira

While many bands just as incredible as Hejira have performed to just 20 or 30 adventurous punters at some of their previous gigs, there is no doubt that comfort in familiarity and nostalgia of Joni Mitchell’s music brought the fans out for this one. But even those not particularly familiar with Joni’s music were stunned by the sheer excellence of this wonderful performance.

From just the opening bars of ‘Coyote’, it was clear this was going to be a fantastic evening as Hattie Whitehead splendidly navigated Joni’s lyrics with the most wonderful tone, accompanied by Pete Oxley on guitar, with Dave Jones, Rick Finlay and Adam Osmianski completing the rhythm section on bass, drums and percussion respectively.

For ‘Just Like This Train’, from Joni’s 1974 album ‘Court And Spark’, they were joined by Chris Eldred on keys and reedsman Ollie Weston adding the distinctive, haunting tone of the bass clarinet.

After some determined adjustment to Hattie’s Telecaster tuning, she led the band into ‘Woodstock’, from the earlier ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ album, a track that also featured on the live ‘Shadows and Light’ album 10 years later, from which this band drew much of their inspiration.

In France They Kiss on Main Street’ is one of my favourite tunes that is the first track on ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ (1975) and was covered next, with Pete adopting the brighter tone for his solo, more akin to Pat Metheny’s playing on the ‘Shadows and Light’ version than Robben Ford’s more distorted rock sound on the studio album.

The pace slowed as Ollie and Adam left the stage for ‘Blue Motel Room’, the second song in the set from the 1976 ‘Hejira’ album from which the band takes their name. The entire audience were spellbound by Hattie’s enchanting voice, subtly accompanied by piano, guitar and bass as Rick brushed away at the drums.

A brief deviation from the Joni Mitchell repertoire followed, as Hattie left the stage and Pete introduced the instrumental ‘Phase Dance’, written by Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny who played in the Shadows and Light band. Pete authentically channelled Metheny for this piece, which also featured Chris with a delightful piano solo. It also gave Adam the opportunity to give his wide array of percussive objects a good bash, shake and rattle!

Ollie and Hattie re-joined the band on stage with Hattie selecting her fourth guitar of the evening (in fact, I believe this blue semi-acoustic was one of Pete’s, having spotted an identical one in a photo from one of his Oxley-Meier gigs in 2022), and Ollie picked up his soprano sax for ‘Song For Sharon’, as Hattie delivered the ten verses with remarkable memory and exceptional elegance.

Before closing out the first set with the jauntily upbeat ‘Free Man In Paris’, Pete explained his invention of the ‘Look-Scan-Listen’ hybrid format of recorded music, which comprises a quality, full colour hard-back book featuring old-school liner notes per page for each song, accompanied by a QR Code, which the reader can scan to instantly stream the song on their phone. The band have produced their ‘Live at The Cockpit’ recording as the first release in this format, which was available for sale on the night and I believe a fair few units were shifted.

A remarkable and unusual tambourine solo from Adam introduced the second set, joined then by Pete on guitar as he led the band in to ‘Help Me’ – the second song of the evening from the Court and Spark album. Hattie’s vocal dexterity shone through as Ollie added some delightful tenor sax to the mix and Pete took another Metheny-esque solo.

Pete introduced the three-part medley of ‘Amelia’, ‘Pat’s Solo’ and ‘Hejira’, as featured on the Shadows and Light live album. The room fell silent as Hattie dreamily sang the first verse of Amelia with just her solo guitar, before filling out first with Pete’s soft guitar, then Ollie, barely blowing through the bass clarinet, all together producing a most beguiling sound. Just WOW!

Pete then rolled into ‘Pat’s Solo’, played for the most part in its recorded form,  with sufficient adaptation to Pete’s own interpretation. This eventually led into ‘Hejira’, in which Dave rightfully reproduced the distinctive Jaco Pastorius embellishments from the live recording and Ollie did the same with Michael Brecker’s interjections on the soprano sax between Hattie’s gorgeous vocal, before closing out the piece with a solo.

Hattie then left the stage for another instrumental interlude from the band, this time an original composition from Pete entitled ‘The Surging Waves’. This was a lively samba-shuffle groove, with an easily discernible Pat Metheny influence on Pete’s writing and tone that also featured Rick hitting all the drums in quick succession for an extended period of time (the only drum solo of the evening), enhanced and punctuated by Adam on timbales and the occasional splash cymbal.

Pete then joined Hattie off-stage, leaving Dave to take a solo feature on his five-string fretted bass as an introduction to ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, incorporating a bit of phrasing from Jaco’s ‘Continuum’. Originally written by jazz bassist Charlie Mingus as a tribute to saxophonist Lester Young, Joni wrote lyrics for the arrangement recorded on her 1979 collaboration album with Mingus to which she gave his name. Incidentally, Jeff Beck’s arrangement of the same tune was performed on the Music Spoken Here stage in January, with an incredible guitar solo from the legend Paul Stacey, when FNUK (featuring Jason Rebello, Jeff Beck’s pianist between 2004 and 2010) played their first show of the year (available to watch on the Music Spoken Here YouTube channel.

The set came to a close with ‘Black Crow’, another track from the Hejira album, but the packed house wouldn’t let it lie, and were rewarded with the most delightful encore of ‘A Case Of You’, introduced by Hattie as the first Joni Mitchell song that she learned. I am told this brought tears to the eyes of more than one member of the audience, as we were left assured that we had spent the entire evening in the presence of a truly accomplished singer and a band of supremely talented musicians.

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