As she turns more of her attention to songwriting (both music and lyrics), regional treasure Patricia Barber uncovers new facets of her art--no easy feat when you consider the deep, dark dazzle that's marked her performances and recordings in the 90s. Barber can rebuild and inhabit virtually any tune she tackles, spinning steel-lace improvisations at the piano, her singing voice as pure and chill as liquid oxygen. But more than ever, Barber's material on the upcoming Modern Cool (Premonition) fits her devastating, coolly impassioned delivery. On her half dozen originals she picks up where her previous album Cafe Blue left off, staking her claim to an emotional territory that jazz musicians have all but abandoned to rock and pop. A few other vocalists have gone this route (most notably Holly Cole), but Barber makes them sound like little girls. On "Company," one of the best examples of her velvet-gloved satire, she offers a bleakly hip snapshot of modern life: "I like lots of MTV....I like a cell phone conversation short enough to slip in the cracks of the call-waiting generation....I like an ethnic look and feel, if that's what everyone else thinks is real, for company." It's a song that catches the historical moment, and in that sense Barber owes as much to Bob Dylan as Cole Porter. Then, when you think you've figured her out, she adapts T.S. Eliot's "Love, Put On Your Faces" into a gorgeous, haunting art song. As on her last album Barber sings more than she plays, but she attacks the piano with a combination of authority and curiosity that characterizes the finest improvisers. Modern Cool includes guest solo work from trumpeter of the hour Dave Douglas (who won the critic's choice award for best trumpeter at the recent Jazz Awards in New York) and guitarist John McLean and the Choral Thunder Vocal Choir; the latter two will perform at Saturday's CD-release party. Saturday, 8 PM; dueting with bassist Michael Arnopol, Sundays, 11 PM; and leading her trio, Mondays, 9 PM; Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Valerie Booth.