Patricia Barber has always been edgy, iconoclastic, and daring, and she has committed the cardinal sin of insisting on creative control of her product. After seven albums on her own label (Premonition) or in cooperation with Blue Note, this is the first to be released exclusively by the latter.
Not coincidentally, her music is unique and instantly identifiable: powerful and passionate, but also whimsical and tongue-in-cheek. Barber is a skilled pianist and supple singer who can be sensitive or scathing, and her band perfectly midwives her message. Her lyrics are clever, stinging, and often dark, full of metaphor and irony. In 2003, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to create an eight-song cycle; the first of these is here as "Whiteworld," an angry indictment of imperialism: "I'm a gangster in a Hummer/and this culture will yield/to me." No, there's no trace of moon-June-spoon in Barber.
In the hypnotic "Gotcha," her ode to fretful, late-night paranoia, she asks, "did you ever think a piano could fall on your head?/do you look over your shoulder at all?" As usual, Barber transcends category: she transforms an 18th century French poem into a beautiful ballad, churns "Whiteworld" into a funk fest, and merges acid rock, blues, and free jazz for the cacaphonous "Clash."
Having said all that, this is a surprisingly accessible album, culled from her two-week tour of France in early 2004. Barber's familiar sharp angles are softened by moments of pure beautymost notably, her gentle rendition of "Laura," with ethereal commentary from superb guitarist Neal Alger, which truly captures the intent of the lyric: that "she's only a dream." On the instrumental "Witchcraft" she shows she can swing as well as any jazzer, throwing in a little Basie ending as a wry salute to the mainstream. Both the witty "Pieces" and the aching "Blue Prelude" are about dashed hopes and fractured relationships, but the CD ends with "Call Me," the Chris Montez hit from the '60s, a hopeful samba that clears the brain and quiets the soul after "Whiteworld."
Such careful sequencing helps blend the disparate musical elements into a coherent and satisfying package of pure Barber-ism. It's a brilliant and intriguing CD.
Gotcha, Dansons La Gigue!, Crash, Laura, Pieces, Blue Prelude, Witchcraft, Norwegian Wood, Whiteworld, Call Me.
Patricia Barber, piano and vocals; Neal Alger, guitar; Michael Arnopol, bass; Eric Motzha, drums
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!
Get more of a good thing
Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.