(30 May 2005) Pianist-vocalist Patricia Barber has forged a brilliant career as both a chic/smart interpreter of songs and a songwriter who pens witty and gorgeous numbers. She inhabits a rarified career stratum with just a few jazz artists who combine artistic sophistication and critical acclaim with concert and recording success. Enthusiasts of Christy Baron's work are certain to be drawn to Patricia Barber's recordings.
With a keen ear for melody, a dark-tinted alto voice that is part mystery, part whimsy, and an adventurous approach to playing the piano, Barber has been winning over audiences for the past decade on the merits of several "coolly modern" albums released jointly by Premonition and Blue Note Records. The MFSL re-issue of Modern Cool--with covers of "Light My Fire," "She's A Lady" and bonus track "The Fool On A Hill" given Barber's unique jazz treatment--is a tribute to her early work.
And therefore Modern Cool (Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (USA) UDSACD 2003, 2002) is certainly one of the vastly acclaimed highlights of Patricia Barber's career. The version superbly re-mastered by Mobile Fidelity is sonic bliss and includes additional technical liner notes and one additional track not included on the original release.
The Mobile Fidelity edition was mastered using the GAIN 2 mastering system. The custom analogue tape section utilizes an extremely low induction tape playback head and handmade reproducer electronics, achieving unparalleled resolution and bandwidth up to and beyond 60 kHz. This enables MFSL engineers to extract, with the utmost accuracy, every last musical nuance from the Original Master Recording. The production quality of MFSL's pressing is uniquely superb and a notable improvement from the 1998 release.
Barber has been in the vanguard of the new school of female jazz vocalists who in the past decade have been exploring intriguing improvisational terrain beyond classic balladry and bop-infused standards. She was born in a suburb of Chicago to a saxophone-playing father, Floyd Barber, who had played with Glenn Miller.
After studying classical piano and psychology at the University of Iowa, Barber moved back to Chicago to play jazz and in 1984 landed the gig that launched her career, playing five nights a week at the famed Gold Star Sardine Bar. Before long there were lines outside the door on weekends. Her following grew larger and more fanatical when, in 1994, she moved her base of operations to the Green Mill, the north side club that is the nerve center of the indigenous Chicago jazz scene. Barber was presented with a scholarship to Northwestern University and returned to obtain a Masters of Music degree in 1996.
Barber has recorded seven albums. The first, in 1989, a self-produced CD was called Split. Later two critically acclaimed full-length CDs Modern Cool (1998) and Nightclub (2000) and the six-track EP Companion (1999). A Distortion Of Love in 1992 is recognized as Barber's first major label release.
For most of her current audience, it all began with Café Blue in 1994. It hit like something inexplicable, introducing a voice one critic described as "a pure dark whisper straight up from the soul" and a distinct onstage persona that has been characterized as "a beat musician and a bop intellectual." Café Blue led to Barber winning the "Female Vocalist/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" category in the 1995 Down Beat International Critics Poll--an honor that she has since consistently claimed.
After Modern Cool, the 5-star Downbeat award winning critical and commerical success, came the all original masterpiece Verse (2002), ten song tour de force in combination with the striking originality of Modern Cool set a new standard for songwriters across genres and was especially important in paving a future direction for jazz.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs' treatment of Modern Cool is indeed remarkable. MFSL's Ultradisc UHR (Ultra High-Resolution SACD Hybrid) pressing is superbly produced and provides better than excellent playback on both today's standard compact disc as well as the new Super Audio Compact Disc format. The accompanying booklet includes additional technical notes about the recording from Jim Anderson (recording and mixing) and Chip Stern (Stereophile & Jazz Times).
While the original release of Modern Cool (Premonition Records (USA), 1998) with its minimal engineering producing a masterpiece
recording, the enhanced resolution and fidelity of this MFSL version provides listeners that much more opportunity to explore the depth of Patricia Barber's vocal and jazz songwriting talent.