Shadows and Light was Joni Mitchell's first concert film, built mostly around a September 1979 concert at the County Bowl in Santa Barbara, CA, but also featuring her own conceptual visual ideas, not all of which are clear, but mostly make for great viewing -- the opening credits are played out to clips from the movies Rebel Without a Cause, The Blackboard Jungle, Rock Around the Clock, and Rock, Rock, Rock; actually, those excerpts all make sense as the concert commences with a lovely, rippling rendition of "In France They Kiss on Main Street," featuring some superb guitar from Mitchell and Pat Metheny, exquisite bass work by Jaco Pastorius that's their match, and drumming so sublimely beautiful from Don Alias that it sounds almost lyrical, all tied up with Mitchell's voluptuous singing. The dance and performance clips all seem to be a reminder that at one time, even when the music was identified principally with crime and delinquency, rock & roll (and jazz, which wasn't too much more "respectable," and, for that matter, all music) was about performance and interaction on both sides of the stage, not recording. "Free Man in Paris" and the bluesy "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" bring Michael Brecker's saxophone to center stage alongside Mitchell's singing, and Pastorius and Metheny get their own extended solos that are almost worth the price of admission by themselves. The intercutting of extra musical footage shows a good understanding of Mitchell's editing rhythms and how to mix them with music. A lot of the visuals, such as the shots of Amelia Earhart on "Amelia" and the coyotes on "Coyote" are obvious; other clips are more subtle, and "Hejira" is where those rhythmic and visual elements all come together perfectly. Another surprise is that the one song here that would seem to invite conceptual footage, "Furry Sings the Blues," is done "straight," Mitchell and her guitar in center stage in her tribute to Furry Lewis and the world he came from and kept alive. Mitchell's penultimate number is "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," which not only allows her and the Persuasions to pay tribute to Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, but also gives Michael Brecker a chance to pay homage to Jimmy Wright's original solo. The Persuasions remain with Mitchell for the hauntingly beautiful finale of "Shadows and Light," which also moves Lyle Mays' keyboards into the foreground sonically. This film may have been the first real hint that Mitchell was a quadruple creative threat. The songs are all pretty much from her contemporary '70s albums, which weren't some of Mitchell's most successful as studio creations -- as performance works, however, she sells them perfectly, with Metheny and Pastorius providing excellent jazz fusion soloing along the way.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder