It wasnt until this, Barbers sixth album that she decided her own style, presence and following had developed to the point where an album of classic jazz compositions wouldnt detract from her own work. The album Nightclub is a compilation of modern, standard repertoire, but with a touch of Patricias special flair and style. It takes full advantage of modern recording techniques, which make not only her voice, but also the music draw you into her world of jazz.
This album first appeared on CD in the year 2000, to the delight of Barbers fans, but now it has been re-released as an SACD and further augmented by an additional track, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. While the disc does not benefit from having being recorded with Sonys new DSD technology, the people at the rejuvenated Mobile Fidelity label have nevertheless used their impressive re-mastering skills to take the original recordings and convert them to the DSD format, which in turn was then used to create the hybrid, stereo SACD.
Thats right, this SACD not only contains a new SACD high-resolution layer, but also a Red-book 44.1kHz PCM layer that can be read by any standard CD player/transport. And thats about the only thing that is standard on this new disc, as you will learn as this review progresses. Therefore to maintain objectivity, I will discuss the backwards-compatible Red-book layer before moving onwards and upwards to the high-resolution layer.
First up, 44.1kHz PCM and the opening track, Bye Bye Blackbird, a song that has become a standard for most jazz musicians to perform, but here it takes on a life of its own. Patricias voice and the music from her band are extremely lifelike and exceptionally detailed; you can close your eyes, imagine yourself in the nightclub where she is performing and clearly hear the subtle differences that set Barber apart from other modern day jazz vocalists.
It also is apparent that the Red-book version on this disc differs from the original CD release. When Mobile Fidelity re-mastered the recording for this SACD, they didnt just use the original version of the Red-book layer, instead they used a new, superior master (and perhaps adjusted EQ curves) to enhance the album. The bass is more developed than on the original disc while the treble is sweeter and airier, both of which make the album even more involving than on the materials first outing. The difference is so great that if you first heard the CD layer of this disc and then made a comparison to the original CD, one could quite easily believe one was comparing a high-resolution SACD version to that of a CD, the basic fidelity is that much improved.
As Mobile Fidelitys re-mastering has such an effect on the Red-book layer, you can only imagine how the SACD layer sounds Utilizing the power and flexibility afforded by DSDs greater resolution, the SACD version brings to life not only Patricias voice, but also the accompanying instruments. From the moment you move from the CD layer to the SACD track you know there is no going back.
Track six is Alfie, a modern jazz classic. The song begins with Patricia singing unaccompanied, and if you listen closely you can hear the intimate subtleties of her voice, making her seem far more lifelike than would be possible without the increased resolution. When the band begins, you can also hear the style of her presentation alter as she begins to harmonize with her fellow musicians. Rather than being detached or distanced from the music youre there, in the same room as the performers, such is the feeling of intimacy and immediacy.
Track eight, Summer Samba, places the band directly in front of you; the notes flow from the perfectly positioned piano as each key is struck and the drums, no longer part of an indistinct background become a smooth, never overpowering or harsh, well balanced driving force in their own right.
While its fairly clear that Im going to rate this album highly, it would be remiss of me if I didnt point out one minor flaw. By design or not, Patricia Barber is not always in the center of the soundstage, as I would imagine she should be. Instead, on some tracks she seems to drift slightly left, while not far enough to be considered a major distraction, as was the case with the Linda Rosenthal Oh! That Stradivarius disc, it is just enough to be noticeable and it makes the transition from track one to track two, for instance, a little awkward. When track two begins, something immediately strikes you as being not quite right, but youre not sure why. It takes a while before you realize that Patricia has moved and that shes no longer positioned at the same location within the soundstage as she was a moment ago.
In short, while the album is not perfect it comes as close as any I have ever heard on SACD, which is especially curios considering it did not originate from a DSD master recording. Both Patricia Barber and Mobile Fidelity have created an album worthy of any collection, regardless of what type of music you particularly like. Not only does Patricia Barber give an amazing performance, but also the people at Mobile Fidelity have set a new standard in the SACD re-mastering of non-DSD source material.