April 12, 2003,
By John Shand

Patricia Barber
Blue Note/Premonition
Stephen Sondheim has observed that a well-crafted song is like a one-act play, with beginning, middle and end, and character development. It is an observation which applies beyond music theatre. In presenting all-original material this time out, Patricia Barber has created stunning examples of lyric-driven little one-act plays. Stark phrases delivered against dramatic backdrops pile up on one another and develop such momentum that one is drawn inexorably to the words. She writes poetically, without writing stand-alone poetry. Like Sondheim - perhaps the greatest lyricist of all - she likes lists, with their spiralling power as the listener's ear becomes trapped in the

Barber delivers her songs darkly but without histrionics, so the drama builds organically. She employs musicians who can describe an entire scene in a smattering of notes. Here she has the brilliant trumpeter Dave Douglas (who lit up Australia last November) and Joey Baron, a drummer whose style is defined by the music he plays, rather than being something he imposes. Regular bassist Michael Arnopol is back, and guitarist Neal Alger produces shimmers and growls in counterpoint to the words. Barber's own piano playing is as flinty as a fine chablis and it is to be hoped that a tour soon eventuates, because she is at the height of her powers.