Singer, pianist, poet Barber shoots sparks
January 13, 2005


"Hold onto your meat," jazz singer/pianist/lyricist Patricia Barber warned the dinner crowd Tuesday evening at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. Then she launched into the jarring, slightly discordant riffs of "Crash," an instrumental from her latest Blue Note compact disc.

Anyone who came to the Dakota expecting a placid evening of cozy, familiar jazz standards would have been surprised and intrigued by Barber's irreverent originality and onstage inventiveness.

Chicago-based Barber is as much a poet as a jazz singer and pianist, and performs as all three equally well. Her set Tuesday night included several spoken-word performances that evoked the spirit of the Beat poets as much as the jazz icons of the past. Her original pieces are filled with sardonic, stream-of-consciousness lines like "She's just a button short of trash ... Just a culture short of class ...." Her writing shows an outsider's ironic worldview and a well-honed appreciation for the power of words and their sound-nuances.

With her slightly smoky alto voice, Barber also has the vocal gifts and polish to delve into conventional jazz balladry. Her piano playing shows the same intuitive, surprising approach as her lyric writing, with an edgy energy that echoes the late, great Bud Powell. The three musicians who have accompanied her for several years are a perfect fit for her spacious music: guitarist Neal Alger, acoustic bassist Michael Arnopol and drummer Eric Montzka.