Modern Classic

Modern Cool (Premonition Records)
Patricia Barber

By Tim Roberts

Gonna go out on a limb here and make a proclamation: Patricia Barber's Modern Cool is destined to rank among Miles Davis' Kind of Blue or Bitches' Brew, Pat Metheny's Zero Tolerance for Silence or Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook series. It is the kind of recording that becomes memorable because of songwriting, performances, production quality, arrangements or all four. The recording presents a form within jazz (in this case, the laid-back lounge-jazz combo with vocalist) that gets a long-deserved soup-up from Barber's songwriting and vocals (think of Patti Smith morphed with Diana Krall) and sublime, tight backing from her rhythm section.

Modern Cool's personnel consists of Barber (for whom this is a second recording for Premonition Records) on piano and vocals, Michael Arnopol on acoustic bass, John McLean on a blues-fuzzed guitar, Mark Walker on drums and percussion, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Jeff Stitely on the udu and backing vocals from the Choral Thunder Vocal Choir.

Her lyrics about love and loneliness are smart, honest. "Silent Partner," a selection about a one-sided love affair contains the line, "can't you hide the kindness in your eyes / that leaves me bleeding / on and on this way?" She also manages to adapt a poem from e. e. cummings, America's typographic trickster in verse, resulting in "Love, put on your faces." Reading cummings aloud is challenging enough. Creating and singing a song based on one of his poems is a tribute to a songwriter's boldness.

To keep the lounge-band theme consistent, Barber and band also do luscious covers of The Doors' "Light My Fire," and "She's a Lady," penned by Paul Anka and yelped out by Tom Jones more than 20 years ago.

Jazz needs a few buckets of cold water in its face. This recording is one of them. But don't worry if you can't get your hands on a copy of Modern Cool anytime soon. Chances are, it will be available in your favorite music shop thirty years from now.