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Impressive and engaging

Patricia Barber - Mythologies
(Blue Note)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 21, 2006
Patricia Barber

Review by Brad Walseth

The end result of a Guggenheim genius grant, Patricia Barber's latest, entitled Mythologies is the best work yet from this talented Chicago pianist/singer/composer. An updated and personal reexamination of the "Metomorphosis" of Ovid - itself a penetrating psychological study within the stories of the archetypical/mythological characters whose actions and behaviors cover the spectrum of humanity - Mythologies follows its source closely in providing both delights and contemplative rewards.

Timeless and compelling even still after the centuries, the "Metamorphosis" presents of wealth of material to draw upon. Ovid's characters fall prey to all forms of human weakness and folly - from greed, violence, hunger and prideful hubris, to love and narcissistic self love and of course in the end: death. Barber's characters may move through late night casinos and drive Hummers, but they exhibit the same tendencies that have beguiled and haunted our forebears throughout history. But don't let the serious subject matter disuade you - the songs themselves are a joy. From intriguing opener "The Moon" - featuring Jim Gailloreto's fierce tenor sax, through the beautiful choral closer "The Hours," Barber and her crew are never less than entrancing. The music ranges from cocktail jazz to gospel, blues, rock, fusion, pop, experimental free jazz, and even rap. Of the quiet numbers "Narcissus" explores obsessive love and self-love(gay love?) in depth, while "Morpheus," with its repetitive bass may be the most beautiful ballads Barber has written. Up tempo pieces also fare well, as in "Icarus" which recasts the famous myth of the boy who flew too high within the story of singer Nina Simone in an arrangement that glides and rises as though on a wild wind. Old favorite "Whiteworld" makes a welcome appareance as well, again featuring blazing guitar work from Neal Algar while skewering modern Western colonial society.

In perhaps the boldest and most unusual move, Barber adds youthful rappers on "Phaeton." As they recount a list of endangered species, we are reminded of the unsettling and uneasy impact of humanity upon this garden planet. All in all an impressive and worthwhile outing from the always engaging Ms. Barber.

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