Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (2008)
The mix here is a Cole Porter cocktail, a dry martini but with a touch of jalapeno instead of olive. And while there are strains of melancholy, as Barber says in the notes: "Cole Porter never wrote a song that said 'I'm miserable.'" That jalapeno heat comes from the evocative jazz arrangements and solos, especially those of guest tenor saxophonist Chris Potter (on five of the 13 tracks) and acoustic and electric guitarist Neal Alger, as well as the singer's incisive piano. It's also a literal mix, as Barber stirs in three of her own songs, ones consciously influenced by the sophisticated Porter oeuvre.
Like the late Shirley Horn, another fine singer-pianist, Barber never rushes, often floating over and behind the beat, slowing it down or half-timing it; on "Just One of Those Things" she lags the beat, while Potter and the band swing out, her voice insinuatingly sultry to the point of exhaling the title phrase and stretching of the "ings" in "things." Sensual intimacy heightens the mood forged by a slow, flamenco-like rhythm on "I Concentrate On You," with Barber also making suggestive onomatopoeia of the word "intertwine."
Ominous, synth-like guitar and a tango-inflected snare beat bring out the sexy menace of "Get Out of Town" while Barber glides over a romping samba beat on "In the Still of the Night," a track rising to a climactic finale in a tenor sax/drums duet. "C'est Magnifique" gets the French cabaret treatment replete with husky voice and Barber's melodica weaving the melody behind Potter's solo while there's a haunting tone, enhanced by Alger's theremin-like guitar, on "What Is This Thing Called Love?"
Joining a long tradition, Barber adds her own verse of favorites to "You're the Top," but it's her originals that really partake of the Porter sensibility. While "I Wait for Late Afternoon and You" seems metaphorically forced (contrasting Enron-like work with a tryst), "Snow" is full of sensual imagery couched in a long string of questions, beginning "Do you think of me like snow, cool, slippery and white?" and "The New Year's Eve Song" swells with romantic longing. It's a perfect, wistful ending to a superb Cole Porter mix.
Track Listing: Easy To Love; I Wait for Late Afternoon and You; I Get a Kick Out of You; You're the Top; Just One of Those Things; Snow; C'est Magnifique; Get Out of Town; I Concentrate on You; In the Still of The Night; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Miss Otis Regrets; The New Year's Eve Song.
Personnel: Neal Alger: guitars; Michael Arnopol: bass; Patricia Barber: piano, vocals, melodica; Eric Montzka or Nate Smith: drums; Chris Potter: tenor sax.
Record Label: Blue Note Records