Up My Sleeve: Court and Spark
This week’s recommendation is by no means obscure. However, I do think that over time “Court and Spark” has faded from public consciousness. Anecdotally, I would venture to say that your average twenty-something in America today isn’t aware of more than one song from the album, if that. For me, Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” perfectly bridges the gap between pop and jazz in a way that is so satisfying, yet so sublime. When I drop the needle on this record I’m instantly arrested. The opening piano lines, reminiscent of a Keith Jarrett improvisation, subtly pull me into the ensuing dream-scape. Joni creates these kind of lyrical montages that capture seemingly mundane moments in a series of poetic snapshots. Of course anyone familiar with Joni Mitchell expects great, or at least interesting, lyrics. “Court and Spark’s” real achievement, however, is the marriage of the poetry and instrumentation. Production value on the album is high. Horns, woodwinds, and strings are used to great affect on many tracks while others remain sparse, containing no drums and simply utilizing tasteful electric guitar leads over simple acoustic guitar. Background voices, some of which you might recognize, are used as effectively as any instrument on the album. Nearly every track contains beautiful harmonies and I love harmonizing vocals. Like many people, my favorite albums are those that are great from the opening notes through to the last. This is one of those records and it should be approached as such. It brings to light another great argument for albums over mp3s. Something is lost when you hew an album like “Court and Spark” into bite-sized pieces. In addition, the importance of song chronology can’t be overstated. Here it is as important as any facet of the record. Also, whether by Joni’s design or that of her co-producer, there is a style that is maintained throughout the entire piece making it an effortless listen. Every song is like a movement in a larger work. I don’t think it is a mistake that it reminds me of vaguely, in its construction, of a Miles Davis album. If all of this wasn’t enough, Joni provides a cool embossed cover to look at featuring a painting in her signature style and inside you get a big ol’ black and white Joni to peep. If you’ve never sat down and listened to this record you should start with “Help Me”, the hit, then try “Court and Spark”, the title track, and move on to “Car On The Hill”. The saxophone is awesome on the latter. But, if you really want to do yourself a service put this album on and get up only to flip it to side two. Give this one a listen and let me know what you think. See ya next week.
Link to listen to the full album: HERE
(All words and photos by Bradley from his weekly post, Up My Sleeve)