CD review: Patricia Barber – Clique! 2021: Video, CD cover

These time-honored songs, lovingly curated, arranged, and performed by pianist/vocalist Patricia Barber and her band, are at last seeing the light of day when the world needs them more than ever. Pristinely recorded, Clique assembles what began as encores to live performances into an experience all its own.

The album comes out of the same sessions that gave us Higher, which immersed the fortunate listener in a world shaped by art song and poetry, only now shed of its shadows and reveling in the city lights. “This music is fun, like Patricia Barber without the dark side,” is how she describes her project in a recent interview. “We’d been booked for four days in the studio but finished Higher in two. Since the band was already there and tight from having been on the road, it was easy for me to pull these out.”

There is indeed an ease that characterizes her vocal delivery of Jobim’s “Samba de Uma Nota Só / One Note Samba” and the Rodgers and Hammerstein bon mot “Shall We Dance?” Appearances by Neal Alger (acoustic guitar) on the former and Jim Gailloreto (tenor saxophone) add to the nostalgia of these familiar grounds, though it’s her core trio, led by the bandleader’s keystrokes, that does much of the heavy lifting. Linked arm in arm with bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer Jon Deitemyer, she first croons her way onto the rain-slicked streets of “This Town” as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“In some ways, I’m a control freak,” Barber admits of her sound. “These are arrangements. This particular group is one I cherish, so everyone gets time to play. So, while it’s stylized, they definitely have an input.” Said input is front and center in “The In Crowd,” which tracks its nerve impulses outwardly from a spinal bass line. In this and “Trouble Is A Man,” Barber shows that her greatest powers as a singer tend to reside in her quietest inflections. From a near whisper, she is able to elicit deep lyrical and emotional conflicts. Chalk this as another victory for Jim Anderson, whose engineering ensures both fine separation and artful blend. “He just gets better,” says Barber of the producer with whom she has worked for the better part of three decades. “In my music in general, I value silence as much as I value presence, and he’s able to capture that perfectly.”

Even when her voice hangs its hat for an instrumental interlude, Barber ensures that the audience, however virtual, is never forgotten. Whether turning the kaleidoscope of her original “Mashup” or navigating the burnished corridors of Monk’s “Straight No Chaser,” she allows freer energies to occupy the foreground. Notes Barber, “This is a very good representation of what you will hear when you come to see us live. It was true to what this band was playing at the time. We worked very hard on pulling melody away from the rhythm as we know it. It takes a very quiet space and musicians who are listening closely to do that.”

Their synergy is especially apparent on “I Could Have Danced All Night,” in which the drum kit seems to spread its wings around us as Barber takes a half-lit stage with poise. The sonic whetstone along which she sharpens such tunes is indicative of their somewhat unusual choosing. “When people hear ‘standards album,’ they’re expecting the classic American Songbook of the 30s, but these are from the 50s and 60s, one of my favorite eras. I would call it a covers album.” In that spirit, Barber takes the metaphorical connotations of the concept to their fullest, dressing melodies and harmonizing with freshly tailored clothing.

In that respect, one can’t help but hear Clique and Higher as complementary. Whereas the earlier release broke new harmonic ground for vocal jazz music and was the result of six years of writing, here we are treated to a set of comforts we know and love. Barber is acutely aware of the timing as well: “This is a pleasant album to throw on right now, though I am disoriented by having a record come out that I can’t perform with.” How fortuitous, then, that she should end with Stevie Wonder’s “All In Love Is Fair.” Its sincerity speaks to the heart of the matter and unpacks for us the album’s multivalent title, which Barber picked from among a handful of choices because, in her words, “it sounded like the kind of jazz club you’d want to be a part of.” Thankfully, not even a pandemic can keep us from walking through its doors, taking a seat, and opening our ears to the hope of a brighter future.

01. This Town
02. Trouble is a Man
03. Mashup
04. Samba de Uma Nota Só (One Note Samba)
05. I Could Have Danced All Night
06. The In Crowd
07. Shall We Dance?
08. Straight No Chaser
09. All in Love is Fair

Patricia Barber – Piano and Vocals
Patrick Mulcahy – Acoustic Bass
Jon Deitemyer – Drums
Neal Alger – Guitar
Jim Gailloreto – Saxophone

Album: Patricia Barber - Clique | The Arts Desk

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