Patricia Barber: café blu


Patricia Barber: café blue.  Michael Arnopol, bass; Mark Walker, percussion; John McLean, guitar. Premonition Records 90760-5, dual layer hybrid SACD


café  blue, widely regarded as one of the best female vocal albums of all time, has been reissued on the Premonition Records label from the original studio (unmastered) recording, in dual-layer hybrid Red Book and SACD format. Lacking the equipment, I cannot comment on the latter, but the sound quality of the former ranks this CD among the handful of stellar recordings in my small but very select jazz collection. Like any number of audiophiles have written, it is among the three or four test CDs I’d grab to audition an audio system. As for the music…where do I begin?

When a performance works this well, when the music, the musicians, the sound engineering, the production, the emotional intensity and balance come together with so much aesthetic integrity, adequate words and syntax are (for me, at least) damned hard to come by.

This is due in part to my unfamiliarity with the genres. I listen to eighteenth and nineteenth century music from Europe, so-called classical. And I listen to one thing only for a period of time (for the past two months it’s been Brahms’ fourth symphony with Carlos Kleiber conducting the BPO). I know shamefully little of the jazz repertoire. But thanks to folks like Mike Friedman, who sent me this disc, I get to hear some very splendid, classic jazz I’d otherwise miss. If classical music is a glorious solo alpine flight, jazz is warmth and heart and good company. If classical is a celebration of refined, ethereal emotion, jazz is a celebration of love and rhythm and the joys and sorrows of incarnation.

I will not go into detailed comments on the individual tracks; other, far more qualified reviewers have done this many times since the album’s release in 1992. The tracks do indeed constitute a remarkable assortment, from the near-minimalist Mourning Grace, to a sumptuous version of the classic The Thrill is Gone, to the madrigal-like Romanesque, to the hip, improvisatory Yellow Car III, to mention but four of the twelve tracks. The sheer variety puts me in mind of the multicourse meal at the French Laundry in Yountville that I shall never have, but which I dream about whenever I taste truly exquisite food. café blue is such a rare feast, for the ears and for the heart.

So here I am trying to fulfill my original mandate: to share great musical experiences with others. I don’t think I can do it. I can say this CD is a treasure. I can say that the high regard in which it is held by people in the know is a source of pride in my own taste and judgment. That among the feelings I feel when I listen to it is something that could be called love. That the fact of it’s existence, the labors so many talented people exerted to bring it about, is another reason for faith in the species. That I am happy to have lived long enough to have gotten to hear it. That I am grateful beyond words to Mr Friedman for giving me the opportunity. And I can say that it reminds me of beliefs I once held as sacrosanct, that the beauty of aesthetic truth penetrates more deeply and more extensively than we can even imagine.


 Russell Lichter