Monday, March 4, 2013

Patricia Barber at SF Jazz Center


Yesterday, Sunday March 3rd, 2013 was a pretty special day.  Special because I got to hear vocalist/pianist Patricia Barber in person at the new SF Jazz Center that recently opened in the San Francisco.  Patricia performed in the beautiful Robert N. Miner Auditorium with her current quartet that includes guitarist John Kregor, drummer Jon Deitemyer, and bassist Larry Kohut.  The quartet is based in Chicago, that great city that has given us the best of everything from the entire Jazz spectrum, from the Blues to the Avant-garde....Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to the A.A.C.M. as well as The Art Ensemble of Chicago and everything in between.

It was also a very special night, an honor and a privilege for me personally since I was also asked to emcee the show.  I thought throughout the afternoon what I might want to say about Patricia, the band and her new cd "Smash" which is her first release since making the switch to Concord Jazz.  Now, one must understand, doing what I do is usually alone in a small room with a microphone and stacks and shelves full of cds, playing the music and talking to an invisible audience.  On this night however it's very different.  I'm standing backstage, the stage manager opens the door for me, I step out onto the stage and am completely taken by the rush of energy.  The room is incredible.  The design is beautiful.  Acoustically it is as finely tuned as any music performance space could possibly be.  From the stage, in a room that seats at least 700, it seems as if the entire audience is right there on the stage with you.  Remarkable.  I was there a few weeks ago to hear Dave Holland and Kenny Barron together, and imagined what it might feel like on that stage, and I certainly found out.  The rush walking into the room was powerful.  The few seconds it took before I gathered myself and managed to speak in complete sentences no doubt seemed longer to myself than anyone else in the room.

There is something in Patricia Barber's artistry that truly resonates with me.  It's not just the marvelous stories she tells, or the way she shifts the colors and moods from chorus to chorus or even between one bar line to the next.  Or how when she sings a ballad she leaves just enough space between each word to allow us all just enough pause to reflect on the mysteries of the music.  Patricia focuses mainly on her own compositions, but she'll sing the occasional standard in a genuinely unique way, making it sound totally fresh and new.

Patricia has about a dozen recordings under her name as leader.  The first in the late 1980's was on Floyd Records, a label I'm guessing was named after her father Floyd "Shim" Barber who was a saxophonist in the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  That debut recording was followed by a release on Antilles, then a switch to Premonition Records for her next recordings that sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 120,000 copies.  That not only is huge for a small label, but also perhaps for any Jazz recording, no matter the label.  Long story short, she eventually switched to Blue Note and then a couple of self-produced recordings...and now is on tour in support of her first recording for Concord Jazz.  On it she does her usual amazing job of combining contemporary rhythms and harmonies with an occasional more traditional feel.  The band sounds like they've been working together just about forever, on the recording as well as on stage the synergy between them is total magic.

The performance last night was wonderful, and held all 700 or so folks in the room mesmerized from the first note to the last.  Her itinerary over just the next several months includes stops back in her hometown of Chicago, then France,'s posted here on her website.  If you are lucky enough to be close to one of the cities on that list you should definitely treat yourself and go hear Patricia and her quartet.

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