September 2002
By Chris Sheridan

Cd Review

Patricia Barber
Blue Note/Premonition
Most jazz singers sing songs that are usually somebody else’s but, through personal interpretation, they raise them to a higher artistic level more often than not beyond their writers’ original ambitions. Some go a vital step further, creating their own highly individual frameworks to support more effectively their own distinctive ways with melody, rhythm and lyrics and create a more totally personal music.

Barber definitely falls into the latter category. As I have written previously, she writes absorbing, atmospheric lyrics (sample “If I Were Blue”), under which she generates interestingly varied accompaniments, and uses these to frame intelligently-derived solos as well as to trigger excellent work in her compositions.

In what is distinctly a direct sequel to her best recording, modern cool, she has created a genuinely personal musical atmosphere through moody, grainy, often dark but always highly expressive music, brilliantly coloured by Dave Douglas’ sometimes slithery, sometimes slashing trumpet and the electric resonance of Neal Alger’s Strat. This is clear from the eerie opener, “The Moon”, with the intense imagery of its lyrics matched by “Clues” and “I Could Eat Your Words”. Little is orthodox here. The strings on “Clues” are no Krall-like quilt, but a shadowy ingredient colouring the performance. “Dansons La Gigue” breaks with the ethereality to waltz lightly and sprightly, with a flowing Douglas solo, but is sharply contrasted by the acid lyrics of “You Gotta Go Home”, which takes a sentiment of “The Thrill is Gone” into contemporary life.

I understand that much of this music, written over the past three or four years, had Douglas in mind, and he does not disappoint, ranging from the tightly muted cutting work on “”Regular Pleasures” to the flaring, somersaulting trumpet on “Pieces” or the balmier statement on “I Could Eat Your Words”. Indeed, he and the always interesting Alger dominate the solo space, with Barber restricting herself to just a couple of piano spots (as on “You Gotta Go Home”). As producer, this is remarkably self-effacing.

This is a powerful personal statement, with the emotional contrasts often extremely subtle, exceeding the fine nightclub, which was designed as an entrée, and possibly even the quintessential modern cool, which has a somewhat more obviously varied emotional base.