Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.

music Home > Record Reviews

Listening Party

Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix

Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix

Label:Blue Note
Release Date:2009

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 2/25/2009

Patricia Barber has been singing Cole Porter's songs her entire career, but because she has also been singing the songs of Bobbie Gentry and Smokey Robinson, the Chicago veteran has a different approach to the Porter catalogue than most of her jazz-vocalist colleagues. On the new album, The Cole Porter Mix, Barber uses these standards not as vehicles for showing off her big, agile voice, but as opportunities for personal revelation. She pulls back her alto into an intimate, conversational murmur as if confiding a secret rather than showing off for the entire world. She slides into a substitute chord or holds out a phrase against the beat not to be clever, but to shed new light on the lyrics.

In other words, she approaches these songs not as a jazz diva, but as a singer-songwriter. Barber, an accomplished writer herself, penned three respectable songs in the Porter style to go with the 10 gems by her songwriting hero on this disc. So when she tackles Porter's "Easy To Love," she understands the songwriter's intent. She doesn't belt it out, but sighs her way through it as if in the first throes of infatuation; even her piano solo over the relaxed bossa-nova beat seems to sigh. And when she does "I Get a Kick Out of You," she transforms it from its usual snappy swing into a reluctantly confessional ballad.

Barber works with her longtime quartet, supplemented by saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Nate Smith, recently of the Dave Holland Quintet. Check out Potter's spectacular, eruptive coda on "In the Still of the Night" or Neal Alger's Brazilian-flavored acoustic guitar solo on "I Concentrate on You." Barber reworks all these tunes, even turning "Miss Otis Regrets" into the narrative folk ballad it has always wanted to be. You wouldn't want every Cole Porter album to sound like this, but this one will remind you that Porter was a very personal songwriter, as well as a public entertainer.

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter