Patricia Barber – Companion – Premonition Records 90762-1 LPx2 audiophile stereo vinyl (2 discs) [9/15/13], 56:56 ****1/2:
(Patricia Barber – piano, Hammond B-3, vocals; Michael Arnopol – bass; John McLean – guitar; Eric Montzka – drums; Reuben P. Alvarez – percussion; Jason Narducy – vocals)
Patricia Barber and Premonition Records have invigorated the catalogue of a brilliant, somewhat overlooked musician. Following earlier releases Nightclub, Café Blue (vinyl) and Modern Cool (Blu-ray), listeners can now enjoy the magic of Barber’s live performance. Many artists are scintillating in front of an audience, and she is no exception.
Companion is a live re-mastered, double-disc vinyl recorded at The Green Mill, in Chicago in 1999. As usual, Barber inhabits each song with her idiosyncratic style. The opening track on Side 1 is a bold re-working of the 60’s Sonny Bono hit, “The Beat Goes On”. Without sacrificing the hypnotic rhythm pattern, Barber displays a sly, languid vocal after the bass/percussion intro. Her phrasing is agile, and the Hammond organ shading fits the mood. Keeping the same vibe, “Use Me” interprets Bill Withers as a relaxed, finger-snapping exploration. A lengthy bass solo kicks it off, and then a snaking organ gives the piece a “jazz combo” ambiance. Barber’s soulful cover of “You Are My Sunshine” (one of two previously unreleased tracks) is elegant and poignant. Her piano solo is delicate and adroit, and John McLean’s spacey guitar solo adds a nice touch.
Side 2 is comprised of three original compositions. “Like JT (inspired by Jacky Terrasson)” accelerates the tempo with a percussive piano at the start. The arrangement has bop flair and the rhythm section (Arnopol, Eric Montza and Ruben Alvarez) is hitting on all cylinders. A fusion-like guitar provides an exotic accent. Barber’s vocal prowess is unleashed on “Let It Rain”. On this voice/guitar duet, she embraces her blues/gospel roots. The final track is a beatnik jam with poetic spoken word lyrics that would make Tom Waits proud. The choice of organ accompaniment captures the motley mood.
Barber reprises her urban hipster persona on “If This Isn’t Jazz”. As a lyricist, she is unafraid of pursuing unconventional narratives. McClean’s reverb and echo-laden guitar resonate. On another unreleased cut, Miles Davis’ “So What” exudes a mellow, swaying tempo. Barber opens with an ethereal scat accompanied by a soft bass. Her tasteful piano lines are quietly elegant. There is another outstanding guitar solo. Everything coalesces to establish a palpable texture. The finale (which comprises all of Side 4) is a nearly ten-minute version of Peter Green’s (Fleetwood Mac) “Black Magic Woman”. This song was reinvented by Carlos Santana on Abraxas . Many consider that to be the definitive rendition. But Patricia Barber makes an artistic statement. Initiating a slow build, she finds a unique hybrid structure between Fleetwood Mac blues and Santana latin rock. Her throaty vocals nudge the song along, and her band supplies ample intensity. Solos on guitar and conga are outstanding and a furious, percussion coda is a showstopper. Also, this side is at 45 rpm instead of 33 1/3rd.
Premonition Records has done a superb job in re-mastering this audiophile vinyl. Despite the live venue the acoustics are comparable to a studio. The stereo separation is dynamic. Every instrument is clear at all times. Barber’s low-range voice has a soft, brooding quality. The packaging is top notch, including a high-gloss album cover and gatefold, not to mention plastic record sleeves. Whether you are an audiophile or jazz aficionado, Companion is a treat!
Side One: (33 1/3 RPM)
The Beat Goes On; Use Me; You Are my Sunshine
Side Two: (33 1/3 rpm) Like JT (Inspired by Jacky Terrasson); Let It Rain; Touch of Trash
Side Three: (33 1/3) If this Isn’t Jazz; So What
Side Four: (45rpm): Black Magic Woman