Chi jazz diva Patricia Barber, in for a two-week Gotham gig at Le Jazz au Bar, invests her hour with a cunning vocal seductiveness, a bracing piano approach that really swings and an imaginative sense of improvisation. Barber’s manner is relaxed and assured, her intonation virtually faultless. Her nearly vibrato-free style exudes warmth, and she displays a nice sense of timing and nuance.
Barber has developed an affectingly personal style. As a composer, she reveals an edgy, explorative gift for soul-searching and plumbing the depths of a soiled heart. A new original, ‘The Hours,” focuses on the dubious endurance of a dark-to-dawn relationship. For the suffering torchbearers, she summons images of Goya, darkest indigo and pelting rain with “If I Were Blue,” a song of defining gloom.
Barber’s “Danson la Gigue” is a quaintly infectious, romantic bit of French chanson from her most recent Blue Note CD, “Live: A Fortnight in France.”
She sings with smoothly lacquered alto tones, and the delivery is decidedly whispery and subtle. If she doesn’t appear to bond comfortably with her audience, it might be due to the intensity of her relationship with her wonderfully supportive musicians.
The opening week of her stint featured vibes master Joe Locke sitting in for guitarist Neal Alher, who rejoins the act Wednesday. Locke offered up a hard-driving bop turn on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High,” set to the playfully buoyant chord changes for “Whispering,” a classic joyride for any musician, and the quartet exhibited splendidly bold and hard-swinging exchanges.
“Alone Together” united the quartet in a long, restlessly poetic turn on the languorous Arthur Schwartz melody. Locke played with a tasteful and inventive rakishness, and drummer Eric Montzka was showcased with an adventurous solo on the exotic Juan Tizol-Duke Ellington standard “Caravan.” Rhythmically virile and infectious, Barber led the group to a heightened finale.
“Light My Fire,” a sultry and sexy expression of smoldering embers, was a supremely melodic encore. Barber is a welcome addition to the ranks of flowering jazz babies Diana Krall, Stacey Kent and Karrin Allyson.