Anaylsis Audio


Patricia Barber, “Live –A Fortnight In France”

[Blue Note Records 57821322]

September, 2005

Chameleon Brilliance

I once had the great fortune of touring the region of France known as the Dordogne, making my way from idyllic small towns carved centuries ago from the bends of the Dordogne River and dotted with cliffs that once housed prehistoric cave dwellers. One day we ventured into the town of Collanges-La-Rouge, named after its rich red sandstone buildings. There we found a famed Michelin restaurant tucked into a corner of the main plaza and sat down to sample wine and local color. The first course we were served was a basket filled with local “saucisson”, or sausages, made from different meats and local spices, served with a local mustard and crusty bread. The delicacy, spice, and flavors of those sausages lingers in my memory to this day.

When I first heard Patricia Barber’s new disc, Live-A Fortnight In France, I immediately thought of those French sausages, so many years later. Here was a musical sampling of such brilliance, such complexity and such color that it rivaled the sensory uniqueness of those French meats and the perfection of that culinary experience. Of course, the fact that this recording is taken from live performances of Barber and her trio in three different theatres in France also helped fuse that synapse connection in my mind. The quality of this live recording is astonishing and places the listener beautifully within these majestic halls, with a soundstage that is wide, deep, and tactile in every loving respect. The image dimensionality of this recording is very accurate, making it seem as if you could walk around the players. They are natural in position and height, and surrounded by lots of air and the ambience of each of these halls.

From the first, deep and wide bass notes of Michael Arnopol’s acoustic bass to Barber’s lithe, slinky vocals on the first cut, “Gotcha,” Barber and her bandmates create a cacophonous blend of jazz, blues, rock and Eastern rhythms that captures the listener and never lets up. The musicianship on this disc is brilliant, with each member of this quartet uncannily working in perfect unison with the others to build an improvisational foundation which leads into nooks and crannies, ending with a shimmer of bells, minor chords and tactile drumsticks. Barber’s talent as a musician, composer and arranger is brilliantly showcased on her take on the Beatles’ classic “Norwegian Wood”, which begins with the familiar verses and shimmering chords and then suddenly veers into a creative amalgam of blinding piano cords, deep sinuous bass lines and fantastic pulsating Eastern and blues rhythms. Just as I could have sat there in Collanges-La-Rouge in that restaurant forever savoring those flavors, I wish that this improvisation on this Beatles tune could go on forever, exploring all new musical directions that Barber and her band summon with such natural force and talent. The furious pace of Eric Montzha’s percussion that concludes “Norwegian Wood” is showcased throughout this amazing disc, and the natural textures of the wood, skin and metal of his kit really shines on this live recording. Listen to the differences between Montzha’s use of the outer rims of his drums on “Crash,” and compare this to his hand taps on his bongo set to start “Gotcha.” Have a listen to his use of a hand shaker as it adds color and metallic texture to Barber’s sweetly sung ballad, “Dansons La Gigue.”

The wonderful naturalness to this musical companionship is highlighted on “Blue Prelude,” a lovely duet between Barber and her creative bass partner, Arnopol. I would urge readers to use this creative gem to test their system’s bass prowess, as Arnopol plunges deep and sonorously, grabbing the blues by the tail and acting as a perfect foil for Barber’s woven deep, then high, vocals. It’s a masterpiece of simple, musical divination. Finally, don’t leave behind Barber’s cynical take on “Pieces,” one of her favorite numbers to play live in concerts. Here, the band churns out a fascinating quilt of musical fragments, from blues to stride jazz chords to a touch of the psychedelic. Can’t help when hearing this to think of Bush and Katrina and the resultant tragedy currently displacing thousands in our midst:

“In fragments and tatters, scattered all over the road, each has the other but no piece is a whole.
Little maps in their pockets, reflectors of possibility the pieces pick themselves up dust themselves off and start all over again.”

We welcome any suggestions for audiophile recording gems. Please write to

Nelson Brill