Patricia Barber's newest hybrid of cocktail hour blues and lush vocals jazz is on ample display in Verse
, and the result is must listening - and on all ten tracks. Barber's ability to play by her own rules is remarkably assured and stylistically controlled, having a freedom many artists are rarely granted, a tribute to Barber's own calling the shots behind the scenes as well. At once hugely intimate and yet quite accessible, and smartly avoiding cliché, Barber's performing would seem best enjoyed by a small audience huddled around in a tight circle around the multitalented performers. Any singer can sing music about "being blue," but few can make it work with such imagination; like a contemporary of hers, Diana Krall, she milks every exotic drop her voice has to offer but has an even richer, more emotive, more soulful sound.
Backed up by ace support from guitarist Neal Alger, bassist Michael Arnopol, drummers Joey Baron and Eric Montzka, trumpeter Dave Douglas, and the Cliff Colnot String Ensemble, the startlingly original vocalist-pianist-songwriter creates superb music that maintains modest tempos in most of its tunes and yet somehow manages to shake and surprise us with each new take. You can feel the somber love on such tracks as "I Could Eat Your Words," one of a few selected numbers that employs Barber's piano prowess. The album teases us with that latter talent, but it frees her to focus so strongly on her vocals and allows the backup, including wonderfully sustained work by trumpeter Douglas and the guitar and bass work from Alger and Arnopol, to shine.
In addition to the assured performing of virtually everyone on board, Verse is a prime showcase for Barber's writing - all work on the album is original - and the lyrics themselves have a dreamy, open quality. The first track, "Lost in This Love," is comprised solely of questions, indeed allowing us to get lost in Barber's love. Love of fine jazz, that is, in an album of unquestionable passion and power that would be foolish for any jazz fan to pass up.
Personnel: Patricia Barber (vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes)
Neal Alger (guitars)
Michael Arnopol (bass)
Joe Baron (drums: #1 - 4; #6 - 10)
Dave Douglas (trumpet)
Eric Montzka (drums: #5)
Cliff Colnot String Ensemble (strings, #2)