Saturday, September 16, 2006

Greek to Me

Patricia Barber, Mythologies, Blue Note

"Ample hours to dream, still I lack / Repose, and wander through the night."
-- Patricia Barber, "Morpheus"

When it comes to concept albums, my first question has always been: Is the music any good? Second: Does the concept work? Chicago-based jazz musician/composer Patricia Barber, who produced her ninth recording with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation, tickles the ivories with finesse, but her soft-spoken vocals just don't do it for me.

I usually like smoky alto talk-singers, but there's something a little forced about Barber's style. She tries to swing, but enunciates too carefully for her words to ever really take flight. I was reminded of Broadway sensation Audra MacDonald, who may not swing, but sure does soar. I sense Barber's going for a sort of Nina Simone-by-way-of-Joni Mitchell thing, but those are hard acts for anyone to follow ("Icarus" was even inspired by and dedicated to Simone).

The concept, meanwhile, is a translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid into contemporary argot (Barber describes the author as "a Roman poet...putting a spin on Greek mythology"). With the exception of "The Moon," the rapping at the end of "Phaeton," and "Whiteworld," which references khakis and Hummers, she pulls it off, but I'd rather watch 1959's Black Orpheus again--or listen to Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova soundtrack.

Endnote: Image from the official Patrica Barber website. She plays Seattle's Triple Door on 10/10/06. My mom had the Black Orpheus soundtrack back in the day, but I didn't get to see Marcel Camus's feverish French-Brazilian film until this year's SIFF. Marcel is, by the way, related to the late, great Albert Camus.

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