Pianist and singer Patricia Barber approaches her career with the same restless energy that roils beneath the surface of her music: whether on the piano bench or in the producer's chair, she just can't sit still. Barber attracted much of her considerable following with the beautifully crafted originals on her last two studio albums, which ranged from darkly witty observations like "Touch of Trash" to deep meditations like "Let It Rain." She followed them with her only live date, Companion, adding guest artists and a Hammond B-3 to shake up anyone getting used to her pristine studio persona; and now comes Nightclub (Blue Note/Premonition), the first of her six albums to feature nothing from her pen--not even an instrumental. Instead, Barber sings (in her chilled-bourbon voice) and plays (with crisply executed bursts of improvisation) a dozen covers in the standards tradition. Some of them, like Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" and Cole Porter's "So in Love," date back to the 30s; other choices are delightfully unexpected, like her remakes of such 60s popcorn as "Summer Samba" and "A Man & a Woman." And on "Alfie," the threadbare Burt Bacharach theme from the film of the same name, she makes real magic with a combination of surgical insight and larger-than-life sentiment. She compels you to really listen to the words, and they turn out to be a lot better than you remembered--moving and smart in ways the tune's melody had long obscured. Barber's experience in performing her own compositions has only enhanced her ability to interpret other people's work: when she brings a piano phrase to an imperceptible stop, or when she enters the dead stillness of a note held without vibrato, the music gets quiet in ways that have nothing to do with volume. She dedicates the new album (in part) to the Green Mill, the cozy Chicago haunt where she plays every Monday with her trio, but she celebrates its release at Park West, where the large stage, faux-elegant lines, and seating capacity recall the oversized showplaces of the swing era. Friday, 8:30 PM, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Valerie Booth O..