Patricia Barber

Live: A Fortnight in France

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Since her beguiling 1991 debut, Distortion of Love, songwriter, pianist, and vocalist Patricia Barber has steadfastly remained true to her quirky, left-of-center jazz vision, which includes equal parts edgy pop and rock. Barber has a fluid, restlessly individualistic style on the piano; she can hold her own with anybody. Her songwriting comes from that particular space where the notes and rhythms begin to bleed into one another and come out jagged, sophisticated, and full of razored poetic wit and steely philosophical insight about the ironies of modern life. This set was recorded in three French cities, Paris, Metz, and La Rochelle. Utilizing her longstanding band (bassist Michael Arnopol, drummer Eric Montzka, and guitarist Neal Alger), Barber displays in spades the skill of this band to improvise, swing, and cut across musical lines on five originals and five covers. The disc features two new compositions. "Gotcha" is a steamy, nocturnal piece of jazzed-up pop with a killer seductive bassline by Arnopol. Lyrically, Barber evokes the humor and sophistication of Mose Allison, but takes it to a darker, stiletto-sharp edge. "White World" is a politically spiked, funky, futuristic jazz tune from her upcoming song cycle based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. There are two cuts from her 2002 outing, Verse, as well: the shimmering minor-key and erotically tinged drama of "Dansons la Gigue!," with lyrics by 19th century poet Paul Verlaine, and the silky and forlorn "Pieces." A fine pair of instrumentals are also featured in Barber's "Crash," with its deep groove and killer piano solo, and a near intoxicating read of the nugget "Witchcraft." Add to this a mournful and haunted take on Johnny Mercer's "Laura," the eternally elegant "Blue Prelude," and a finely elongated, loose read of "Norwegian Wood." The set ends with a cabaret version of the old Chris Montez pop classic "Call Me," which -- for all its camp -- comes off as a nice little bit of samba. Unlike most live records, this is a welcome chapter in the Barber book, with surprises, risky behavior, and top-flight musicianship.

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