bitch speaks volumes
Barber and a city of two tales
said a self-referential Patricia Barber more than a year ago --
the laughter-provoking utterances finally coming five songs into
a sparsely attended Aladdin Theater show. Barber returned to Portland
Dec. 6 and found the piano bench and several hundred jazz aficionados
tucked beneath the third floor of the Crystal Ballroom in Lola's
roar: Barber's essential 1998 release, Modern Cool.
remember saying it," she laughed. "I do remember the place being
empty. Those weren't the best of times."
that Portland, for Barber, has become a city of two tales. And the
"bitch" remark said plenty: five songs-worth of seeming standoffishness,
then three little syllables supplying a torrent of personality --
and a portent of wider recognition.
to Lola's, where Barber fashioned a vigorous 70 minutes of standards
and pop, mixing voluptuous vocals with animated instrumentals to
display a singing, playing, songwriting triple threat.
Add a handful
of top-shelf recordings and her aura of inscrutability -- and call
it jazz quintessence.
at Lola's, including bassist Michael Arnopol and drummer Tony Pensiote,
sailed through spirited readings of "All the Things You Are," "Caravan"
and "Autumn Leaves," each player taking generous solos.
as a trio is good," Barber said. "The audience really gets a chance
to hear us all play."
Barber, a Chicagoan, embodies a jazzy John Lennon, cast opposite
Diana Krall's Canadian-style Paul McCartney. Together, they elicit
the beginnings of a 21st Century post-bop Mount Rushmore: two chanteuses
playing old-school piano and singing their way to the top of the
idiom's charts. But Barber's is the much darker muse.
Yet, the crux
of her karmic cool is an uncanny power over pop. Barber's recordings
frequently meld bebop into the likes of "Black Magic Woman," "Light
My Fire," "Ode to Billie Joe," Sonny Bono's "The Beat Goes On" and
"She's a Lady," the Tom Jones hit.
she even made good on Joni Mitchell's suddenly popular-at-the-holidays
"River" (the 1971 tune appears on recent seasonal offerings from
Linda Ronstadt and Travis, while Robert Downey Jr. poignantly crooned
a slice on TV the other week: "It's coming on Christmas, they're
cutting down trees / They're putting up reindeer and singing songs
of joy and peace / Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
...). Barber gave it a new winter coat.
Then, her own
"Postmodern Blues," from 1998's essential Modern Cool, offered to
boil the entire last century down to a dull roar -- including the
hard-to-argue observation that "Bill Gates has won." Knowingly,
she further surmised: "1900 began the obsession with function as
form / With a hammer and a nail and a paintbrush and a camera they
storm / In Russia the Bolsheviks conquer, the masses want more /
Karl Marx has gone -- I've got the postmodern blues …"
But it was
during an emotive, reciprocating encore, "You Are My Sunshine,"
that Barber displayed the ultimate goods. The deceptively simple
lyric transformed into ultra-cool human pathos, channeling the maximum
power of the art form through a seemingly pedantic folksong everyone
learned at camp.
served as a behind-the-curtain look at the magical free-for-all
bridging rudiment and improvisation -- a dazzling trip to bop college
for the novice, an old hipster's refresher course, and everything
The bitch speaks
about the intimate but awkward Lola's: The $20 Barber show featured
bleeping cash registers, too-loud (and too few) bartenders and what
sounded like a police-band radio -- a police-band radio -- that
blurted reports from the mean streets at several inopportune times!