Patricia Barber | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Patricia Barber

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Listeners who've witnessed Patricia Barber's evolution from a superb jazz pianist to an arresting vocalist--and more recently into a full-fledged writer of musical commentary--won't blanch at her latest project: an 11-piece song cycle inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses. The product of the Guggenheim fellowship she received in 2003, Mythologies is wildly eclectic, employing a variety of forms, harmonic schemes, and poetic devices, and it easily outstrips what was previously her most ambitious work, the collection of originals she wrote for 2002's Verse (Blue Note). Barber devotes segments to different characters, including Icarus, Morpheus, and Pygmalion ("Ivory girl / Chiseled and cooler than clay / Icy reserve / Is provocation"), and scores most of them for small-jazz ensemble--though one song, "The Hours," involves a gospel choir, and another, "Phaeton," incorporates hip-hop. (In Barber's words, Ovid's characters make "perfect fodder for composers...brilliant in conception but skeletally drawn, leaving lots of room for interpretation and/or abuse.") This concert, in which she splits the bill with the new-music group Contempo, is the first public performance of Mythologies--excepting the song dedicated to Orpheus, "Whiteworld," which appeared on her 2004 disc, Live: A Fortnight in France (Blue Note). Barber plans to record the entire suite in March for a Blue Note disc due in the fall. Here she'll feature her regular band--longtime collaborator and bassist Michael Arnopol, guitarist Neal Alger, and drummer Eric Montzka--along with a gospel choir, three rappers drawn from the Chicago Children's Choir, and rangy New York vibraphonist Joe Locke. Sat 1/7, 7:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660 or 312-397-4010, $30. All ages.

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