How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Vocalist/pianist Patricia Barber's 25-year career has been brilliantly marked by a complete unwillingness to compromise her approach to music. She exists in that uncharted creative realm where she successfully defies classification as a purveyor of any particular musical movement or genre. These characteristics spotlight Barber's role as an innovator and catalyst for musical evolution, a musician performing from the front edge rather than the middle of the creative muse. Barber readily shows her chops with standard and original material on her ten-plus previous releases. She exists in that same fertile space occupied by Cassandra Wilson
, where the old is made new again and the new cuts on the fine edge of imagination.
Smash, a collection of twelve originals, follows two well- considered live Barber recordings assembled from her Monday night appearances at Chicago's Green Mill: Monday Night (Fast Atmosphere, 2009) and Monday Night Live at the Green Mill, Volume 2 (Fast Company, 2011). On those recordings, Barber displays her impressive piano command and unique approach to the standards as well as her finely-crafted original compositions. On Smash Barber emerges as the fully formed and informed composer with a new approach to jazz impressionism. Think Bill Evans
Lyrically, Smash is confessional look at pain, loss and love, a kind of a musical The Awful Rowing Toward God (Anne Sexton, 1975-posthumous). Refined Beat images emerge in the medical language of "Code Cool" and the auto wreck picture board of the title song. Barber's musical accompaniment is equally impressionistic, if not more so. Her quartet is crack, particularly guitarist John Kregor who lays waste to the extended coda of "Smash" summoning the spirit of Neil Young melting in a fire. He works the same magic on "Scream," that while more integrated and melodic, is equally cathartic.
Smash gratefully arrives out of almost nowhere to push the jazz envelope out a little further.
Track Listing: Code Cool; The Wind Song; Romanesque: Smash; Redshift; Spring Song;
Devil's Food; Scream; The Swim; Bashful (Instrumental); The Storyteller;
Personnel: Patricia Barber: piano, vocals; Larry Kohut: bass; John Kregor: guitar;
Jon Deitemyer: drums.