CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Dream team of Barber and Alger
Chicagoan Patricia Barber defies categorization.

June 24, 2005

By HOWARD REICH

She's a top-flight pianist who owns one of the more beguiling voices in American music, a daring jazz improviser who composes as meticulously as a classical symphonist, a musician's musician who pens sublimely expressive song lyrics.

Exactly how so many gifts arrived in the work of a single artist is sometimes difficult to fathom, yet they're apparent whenever Barber places her finely tapered fingers on a piano and leans gently into her microphone.

Her perpetually increasing popularity around the world means she performs less often in Chicago than she once did, which makes her upcoming engagement at the Green Mill--her home base when she's in town--particularly noteworthy. For this show, her quartet will include guest Neal Alger on guitar, his gloriously bent pitches and otherworldly musings a nearly ideal match for Barber's liquid vocals and elliptical pianism. When Barber and Alger are trading phrases, while a fine rhythm section churns behind them, listeners can savor the dovetailing of high-flown melodic lines. Moreover, it's apparent that not even Barber and Alger are sure where their improvisational flights will lead them.

Better still, they're appearing in a quintessential Chicago club, where the stage is small, the energy high, the dialogue between performer and audience intimate.