Another Valentine’s Day, another program of love songs. But this is Patricia Barber, she of the icy-hot vocals and frosted stage presence, a woman whose musicianship is rivaled only by her iconoclasm–you can bet that she’ll take a left turn or two. Listeners can get a hint of what to expect from her most recent and most ambitious album, Verse (Premonition), for which she wrote all the music and the lyrics to all but one tune. The love songs mostly come shrouded in mysterious imagery (“The Moon”), or the feeling behind them is buried in clever game playing (“I Could Eat Your Words”), and the most concise track on the album (the coolly hilarious “You Gotta Go Home”) concerns the aftermath of a lust affair. Verse received mainstream raves but brickbats from a number of jazz critics, who found Barber’s wordplay precious or cloying. For me, it ripples with brilliance but remains problematic–hearing ten of Barber’s recent originals in a row exposes her pet devices as a lyricist and composer, particularly her weakness for long-limbed phrases. (Then again, almost any selection of an artist’s work from a particular period will reveal certain tics and trademarks.) That should pose no problem here, as Barber plans to mix originals from earlier albums and traditional standards in with the songs from Verse to create a highly personal road map of the heart. She remains as charismatic as ever, and though she plays sparingly on her recent albums, she still brings a steely imagination and velvet touch to the piano, as anyone who attended her 2002 Chicago Jazz Festival show can attest. Violinist Johnny Frigo opens. Friday, February 14, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.