Patricia Barber: The Art of Jazz Eloquence

Oct 5, 2008

Murray, KY – I was at my neighborhood Borders snooping around the second floor music section when I heard a soothing and erudite voice come over the store's stereo system. From the start, I recognized the tune, Invitation, as I have heard it performed several times by jazz artists in the past. But this rendition was different. It was articulated with longing, passion, and a sense of joy. This was my first introduction to jazz vocalist and pianist Patricia Barber.

Like her fellow Chicagoan, Kurt Elling, Patricia is a regular performer at the storied Green Mill Jazz Club on the North Side of Chicago. She is featured in jazz festivals all over the US and the world, and for good reason. Not since the great Mary Lou Williams, have we seen an artist who is innovative in the fields of composition and performance. And what's more, is that Barber's haunting delivery adds to the depth and scope of her contribution to the music.

Take for example her song I Could Eat Your Words from her 2002 recording Verse. Here, Barber invokes the existentialist philosopher Rene Descartes, as well as alludes to the pragmatist thinker John Dewey. This tune is one of several examples of Barber's genius as she seeks to tell a story and to offer her growing audience of fans something new and exciting.

Lost in this Love follows the same pattern. And it is here that Barber evokes the Socratic Method by asking a number of introspective questions that haunt us all about the nature of life, love, joy, pain, death, and rebirth. With guitarist Neal Alger providing the most articulate performance to underscore Barber's challenging lyrics, Lost in this Love, is by far one of the more eloquent tunes on the album.

Her 2007 album, Mythologies, is even more ground breaking than previous works, in that she makes illusions to the poetry of the Roman poet Ovid. One track, Icarus is a respectful and touching tribute to the late Nina Simone, whose interpretations of musical standards were just as haunting and unique as Barber's own.

Barber's very latest release, "The Cole Porter Mix" bears her unique vocal signature, albeit the tunes are straight from the great American songbook. Here, she dares to sing the oft edited "cocaine" lyrics from "I Get a Kick Out of You." More to the point, her top of the line phrasings in "In the Still of the Night" and "Miss Otis Regrets" are the signal of a new chapter in Patricia Barber's career. Her modern articulation meets the age old jazz standards. This has Grammy award nomination written all over it.

Time will tell, and the discography will clearly show, the eloquent direction of Patricia Barber's creative sound. But one thing is certain, traveling with her along this journey will be very exciting and adventurous.