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Magical Smash

28 MAR 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH

Patricia Barber is a jazz pianist and vocalist with a twist. Her latest release, Smash, is a set of originals with lyrics that, taken as a whole, read like a tone poem. We don’t see a lot of singer/songwriters in the jazz realm, which makes this latest release even more special.

When not touring the world, Barber can be found at Chicago’s famed Green Mill, when she has been holding court for more than 20 years. Part of the magic of Smash is the great chemistry Barber has with her rhythm section -- guitarist John Kregor, bassist Larry Kohut and Jon Deitemyer on drums.

The overriding theme of most of the eight tracks deals with loss; Barber had five loved ones pass away in a short span of time. But her skill at creating artistry out of grief makes this more than an elegy. Her lyrics are thought provoking, sometimes disturbing but always beautifully expressed. As she sings in the opening track, “Code Cool,” “Split seconds can carry quite a surprise,” her words are accompanied by a musical arrangement that changes meter, tempo and feel and in places hearkens back to the avante garde jazz era of the early 1960’s.

In “Redshift,” a cool bossa, Barber cleverly describes sexual attraction by invoking astronomy, Einstein and Heisenberg. The sophisticated love song, “Spring Song,” could take a place in the American Songbook pantheon next to Harold Arlen and Vernon Duke. Barber’s harmonic sense and technical ability at the piano only enhance the originality of her lyrics.

The title song describes the end of a love affair with imagery of a car accident. As she haltingly sings, “this is the sound of a heart breaking” accompanied only by her solo piano, the effect is devastating -- even more so when a full on rock guitar solo shatters the mood. The meaning is clear: We may project silence to the public in our times of grief, but on the inside, our souls are screaming.