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AUDIE CORNISH, host: In 1969, Joni Mitchell released "Both Sides Now," a simple and beautiful song that would become one of her defining works.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air...

CORNISH: Older, wiser, and decidedly more introspective, Joni Mitchell released a remake of that song in the year 2000.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

MITCHELL: (Singing) I really don't know love at all.

CORNISH: The radically different with lush strings and complex harmonies was the work of arranger, orchestrator and composer Vince Mendoza. He won a Grammy Award for this and he's also given his Midas touch to artists including Bjork, Elvis Costello and Sting. But Vince Mendoza is also a respected composer in his own right. He's just released his first album of originals in 13 years. It's called "Nights on Earth."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "NIGHTS ON EARTH")

CORNISH: Vince Mendoza joins us from the studios of NPR West. Vince, welcome to the program.

VINCE MENDOZA: Oh, thank you. It's great to be here.

CORNISH: So a little music appreciation 101, for a second. What exactly is an arranger?

MENDOZA: Well, an arranger will take a melody or a harmony or an idea that was written by someone else, basically, and put them in a frame and tell this story of the melody from the perspective of the arranger. And of course, the big question is how much of myself should I put into this arrangement? That was of course a big issue with the Joni, to see how much of the originals to retain and how much to really tell the story in a different way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "NIGHTS ON EARTH")

CORNISH: For this album, "Nights on Earth," it's been 13 years since your last release of original materials. Is this stuff that's been floating in your head all that time?

MENDOZA: Well, some of it but not really. You know, I have to say I was falling into, happily, the art of arranging and a little by little I started working with other artists. So when I started planning this record it was really time for me to get back into my own music and to shape it in a way that would suit the songs and the soloists and inspire improvisation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "NIGHTS ON EARTH")

CORNISH: And you mentioned improvisation, and there's really an amazing roster of jazz players working with you on the album: guitarist John Scofield and John Abercrombie and the organist Larry Gouldings. What were some of the magical moments in the studio as you were laying down the tracks?

MENDOZA: Well, you know, I consider the magical moments to be everything that came up to the recording and past it. You know, the soloists that appear on this record were really people that I've met over the course of my career and have inspired me to write the way that I do. So I had to have them part of this party and so a lot of the magic really came from what they had to offer me as a composer.

The exercise of writing and arranging, for me, has to have the sound of the soloist in my head when I'm writing. So I'm thinking, you know, I know what John is going to be sounding like on this note or on this phrase.

CORNISH: And that's John Scofield.

MENDOZA: Yeah. Or, I know what Joe Lovano will sound like or I know what Luciana Souza's voice is going to be on this melody and I think, you know, it should go in this direction. And by then there are those moments where things happen that you'd never expect. They'll play a solo and something magical always happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "NIGHTS ON EARTH")

CORNISH: Before I let you go, any way you can give us a sneak peek on your latest projects or what's next on the horizon?

MENDOZA: Well, I just finished a beautiful recording with Mary Chapin Carpenter with an orchestra and I think that's going to really be a very important part of her output. And we're hoping to do that live with some orchestras when the record comes out. Plus, I have a few other recordings coming up and, I know, "Nights on Earth" was so much fun I think I might get started on the next one.

CORNISH: OK. Well, don't wait a decade, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MENDOZA: OK.

CORNISH: Composer Vince Mendoza. His new CD is called "Nights on Earth." He joined us from the studios of NPR West. Thank you so much.

MENDOZA: Thank you. It was great being here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "NIGHTS ON EARTH")

CORNISH: You can hear more from Vince Mendoza's "Nights on Earth" at nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

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