Patricia Barber – Nightclub – Premonition Records – 2 vinyl discs

Patricia Barber – Nightclub – Premonition Records (2000/2012) 90763-1 HQ-180-gram stereo vinyl (2 LPs) 56:21 [5/29/12] ****1/2:
(Patricia Barber – piano, vocals; Michael Arnopol – bass; Adam Cruz – drums; Charlie Hunter – guitar; Marc Johnson – bass; Adam Nussbaum – drums)
A native Chicagoan (although raised in Nebraska), Patricia Barber has established an unconventional career. As a talented jazz pianist/singer, industry executives were eager to present her in the same vein as superstar Diana Krall.  Earlier recordings like Café Blue (1994) and Modern Cool (1998) relied on stylistic interpretations of sixties popular songs (“Ode To Billie Joe, “Taste Of Honey”) and original compositions (including a musical adaptation of a Maya Angelou poem). Barber’s idiosyncratic vocals and stark piano arrangements were unlike any of her peers. [Listeners tend to either like or hate her dry delivery…Ed.] However, she did not believe that artistic control was in her hands.
That changed with the move to Premonition Records. In 1999, she recorded her first studio album, co-released by Blue Note. In an intriguing departure, Barber elected to pay homage to the nightclub culture (and in specific, Chicago clubs, The Green Mill and The Gold Star Sardine Bar). The repertoire has been expanded to include traditional jazz standards, following in the footsteps of Nat “King” Cole, Nina Simone and Shirley Horn. Premonition Records has re-mastered the 2000 original to two HQ-180-gram audiophile vinyl discs.
Any thoughts that Nightclub would be a typical collection of jazz-arranged pieces will be dispelled by the opening track, “Bye Bye Blackbird”. Barber’s brooding contralto give this cheery song a dose of languid melancholy. The piano runs are succinct, but possess a staccato punctuation that is refreshing. Late night reverie permeates the album. On classic songs like “Yesterdays”, her vocals are aggressive, but synchronized to the gentle swing ambiance of the trio. Her touch on piano is both delicate and elegant.  There are two separate trios (Marc Johnson/Adam Nussbaum and Michael Arnopol/ Adam Cruz) that shake up the chemistry. The bluesy arrangements consistently elevate the material. Tracks like “Invitation” and “So In Love” have a slow burning intimacy. Barber’s playing is nimble and expressive.
Charlie Hunter adds his considerable talent on eight-string guitar to three songs. Substituting for Barber’s piano, his fluid lines add a new dynamic. “Alfie” is a certain highlight. Hunter’s phrasing adds a lighthearted touch as the combo breaks into a waltz swing mode, in counterpoint to the haunting vocals. On “A Man & A Woman” bossa nova chording complements the French language singing. A late night saloon atmosphere inhabits “Just For A Thrill”. Hunter is adept at weaving the guitar around the voice.
Barber’s inimitable vocal artistry and piano skill is at the heart of every number. “Summer Samba” is sketched with throaty higher-register vocal inflection. Her accompaniment and solos are melodic, generating a swaying rhythm. “All Or Nothing At All”, usually associated with Frank Sinatra and Harry James, becomes a scaled-down, up-tempo small ensemble opus. A sentimental ambiance can be heard on the only solo piece, “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. Even Christmas gets the “Barber treatment” on the bonus track, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.
Premonition Records has re-mastered this audiophile vinyl and spread out the grooves with great detail. Barber’s deep-voiced tones and elocution are rendered flawlessly. Every instrumental nuance is captured with vibrancy. Subtle aspects like a drum brush are clear in the mix. The high-gloss album cover is top notch. Nightclub is laudable as great jazz, and as an audiophile recording. [It is priced at the $60+ level of 45 rpm audiophile reissues though at 33⅓…Ed.]
TrackList:
Side One: Bye Bye Blackbird; Yesterdays; Just For A Thrill
Side Two: You Don’t Know Me; Alfie; Invitation
Side Three: Autumn Leaves; Summer Samba; A Man & A Woman
Side Four: So In Love; All Or Nothing At All; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Bonus Track: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
—Robbie Gerson

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