Cool Redux

Companion (Premonition/Blue Note)
Patricia Barber

By Tim Roberts

In August of last year, in almost this very same space, I made a declaration about Patricia Barber's Modern Cool, which had just been released. I said it was destined to rank along with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Pat Metheny's Zero Tolerance for Silence, or Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook series, or actually any acclaimed recording in the history of jazz, because of Barber's songwriting, performance style, and the quality of the entire production.

Her follow-up release, Companion, is just that - a companion to Modern Cool in sound, style and spirit. Like its predecessor, it strengthens its definition of cool: subtle, complex, aloof. But it will still work its way into you with the same hypnotic coziness.

In this particular quest for the ultimate cool, pianist/organist/vocalist Barber is joined by Michael Arnopol on bass, John McLean on guitar, Eric Montzka on drums and percussion, Ruben P. Alvarez on percussion, and guest vocalist Jason Narducy.

Recorded during a live show in July at The Green Mill, the site of Barber's regular gig in her native Chicago, Companion has the same blend of her originals and her own cover versions of a few famous tunes. It opens with a slinky rendition of "The Beat Goes On," (with Barber's delicious work on a Hammond B-3) followed by her take on Bill Withers's "Use Me."

Barber and band then explode with "Like JT," her tribute to jazzmate Jacky Terrasson, fast and tight with lots of change-ups in tempo styles and tone, fierce piano playing and percussion that will smash through your speakers.

Barber covers herself with two selections from Modern Cool: "Let It Rain," appropriate because it was recorded during the killer summer heat wave and drought and the whispery "Touch of Trash."

The session finishes with her cover of "Black Magic Woman," which starts out with Barber's chanting vocals, bridges with a jaw-dropping guitar solo from McLean, and finishes with an intense percussion duel between Montzka and Alvarez that must have sucked the air out of The Green Mill as it was being performed.

The lyrics from "If This Isn't Jazz," one of Barber's originals, are printed on the inside cover. Like noir poetry, the imagery is dark, describing aged regrets, uncertainties, cosmetic fixes of subtle decay. Barber's penultimate words are the sum of her attitude toward her art: "if this isn't jazz / it will have to do / until the real thing / comes along"

If this isn't the real thing, what is?