Herbie Hancock

River: The Joni Letters

Two years ago, the pianist Herbie Hancock released Possibilities, an album of duets with pop vocalists, featuring contemporary artists such as John Mayer and Christina Aguilera and old standbys like Annie Lennox and Sting. Some collaborations felt right; others were ill-advised. With River: The Joni Letters, Hancock does much of the same thing, mining Mitchell’s oeuvre for material. She only appears on one track, “The Tea Leaf Prophecy,” with Hancock’s light touch complimenting her weathered vocals. Hancock sits in the background with soft arpeggios, blending with an acoustic guitar, hammering short notes to fill space between Mitchell’s phrases. Wayne Shorter, on tenor and soprano saxophones, adds depth to the release, especially when he joins Tina Turner on the slightly funky “Edith and the Kingpin.” On the whole, the duets on River fare better than its overproduced predecessor, and Hancock’s solo offerings are portraits of the artist in fine form. 3 stars.