PATRICIA BARBER Verse (Blue Note) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Don't pick up Verse expecting to hear downtempo Starbucks soundtrack shit -- Patricia Barber makes truly highbrow jazz. Not quite avant enough to be inaccessible, Barber's tunes are pure art. First, there are her lyrics, closer to convoluted modern poetry than typical "peel me a grape" jazz riffing. (She borrows from Verlaine on one track and name-checks David Hockney, for crying out loud.) She knows how to wield words, and gorgeous evocative turns of phrase draw you into deep minimalist dark jazzscapes. Then there are her unconventional song structures, which ebb and flow like tides. Barber has a hushed, almost whispered, bebop-style spoken word delivery and the nuanced phrasing of a classically trained actor. Some moments, like the swelling noirish cinematic strings that cap off Clues, have a David Lynchian feel, creating bleak atmospheres where the instruments act more like musical punctuation for the lyrics. Spectacular.