Joni Mitchell’s Hejira & Mingus

November 2022: Nu Civilisation Orchestra led by Peter Edwards and featuring ESKA on vocals set out on a national tour exploring of the music of Joni Mitchell, through her jazz influenced classic album Hejira and her later encounter with the pioneering jazz legend, Charles Mingus.  

The tour visited six cities across the UK, including London’s Southbank Centre during EFG London Jazz Festival, plus Liverpool, Brighton, Poole, Bristol and Sunderland.

With a canon of work including eight studio albums, Mitchell was already established as one of the great voices of her generation by the time she released Hejira in the late autumn of 1976. This was Mitchell embarking on a journey away from her lighter, folk roots towards the freer, jazz-inspired music of her later recordings. By 1978, Mitchell’s move into deeper jazz influences was suddenly pushed further through an unlikely collaboration with one of the most imposing jazz musicians and arrangers ever to take to the stage: Charles Mingus.  

Mitchell’s Mingus took the great man’s compositions as the inspiration for her own lyrics, and she recorded with Jaco Pastorius and members of Weather Report. The result stands as one of the most emotionally intense and unexpected of musical collaborations.  

Entering the lyrically charged vocal realm of Mitchell for these performances is TW alumna ESKA, the London-born British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  The Mercury Prize nominee had already built a reputation as a singer through her work with Grace Jones and Bobby McFerrin before the launch of her acclaimed eponymous album in 2015 and was described by Gilles Peterson as “one of the most important singers in the UK right now”.  

Ahead of the tour, ESKA said “I’m really honoured to be a part of the Hejira and Mingus tour. Both Mitchell and Mingus are huge influences and inspirations to me, and it will be an honour to pay tribute and homage to the true Jazz great Charles Mingus in his centenary year. Having come through the Tomorrow’s Warriors incredible Learning Programme in my early career, I know the breadth, value, and impact of their work, so when I was invited to be a part of this tour I jumped at the chance. It’s been five years since we last celebrated Hejira for a one-off event, so it’s wonderful to expand the concept properly and make it a six-date tour. I can’t wait to hit the road with the Tomorrow’s Warriors and Nu Civilisation Orchestra.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Exceeding all hopes, this made Mingus and Mitchell’s visions as vivid as they’ve ever been, and as breathtakingly advanced. An unbelievable experience. If you get the chance to see this, do not miss it.”

The Arts Desk: Nu Civilisation Orchestra feat. ESKA presents Mitchell’s Hejira & Mingus