In giving a recent rave review to Madeleine Peyroux's "Careless Love", I pointed out how that and 4 other albums have made 2004 an extraordinary year. Evidently, I wrote too soon. Add this one into the mix, and call it "The Gang Of 6." Christopher Louden of Jazz Times calls this one of the year's best, and I concur fully.
In listening to this live album recorded in 3 venues in France, I was struck by this thought: in listening to Caetano Veloso, Americans who don't speak Portuguese can't understand the words he sings, but there's no mistaking the emotion; hence his greatness. Judging by the enthusiastic applause throughout, the French must feel the same way about Patricia Barber.
And I think the reason why is this: If Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson from "The Graduate" could sing, she'd sound like Patricia Barber. I.e., that clipped sense of matter-of-fact cool, masking a profound sense of personal pain. As such, Ms. Barber is the perfect artist to re-interpret Johnny Mercer's "Laura", as she does here with such wistful sadness. And she adds a new level to the encore of "Call Me"; rather than the familiar ubercool of June Christy or Chris Connor, she delivers the song in a conversational, intimate tone. It really works.
Special kudos to the instrumentalists as well. Neal Alger(g), Michael Arnopol (b) and Eric Montzma (d) sound very "Mahavishnu-esque" on "Crash" and "Whiteworld." And based on what I remember of "Nightclub," I think Ms. Barber's pianistic chops have grown. I recall her playing very sparely there, a la Duke or Monk; but here, her expansiveness on "Norwegian Wood" and "Witchcraft" is impressive.
Among Patricia Barber aficionados and other critics, "Modern Cool" by consensus is considered her best. They're probably right; but I think this one deserves to be on the same shelf. RC