Vocalist and pianist Patricia Barber has both honeyed-warmth and icy-cool in her voice. It’s ageless too. And some two decades on from her last set of standards, Clique arrives as a reminder of all that was special about listening to her music – discovering it in the last 90s and loving it through the early 00s. It’s straight ahead jazz and cabaret merged and blurred, she takes songs from all genres and makes them her own – in the past she had amazing versions of Black Magic Woman and Light My Fire that twisted deep inside sinewy grooves but had jazz in their heart.
Here is more of a ‘jazz’ palette to begin with (Straight No Chaser, One Note Samba) and there’s an instrumental chance for the band to show its chops (Mashup). What a band too. Mainstays of her sound are bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer Jon Deitemyer – both remain wonderfully intuitive and on point, dancing down the sides of songs, cheerleading for Barber, whilst guiding and supporting. There’s also stellar work here from saxophonist Jim Gailloretto and guitarist Neal Alger – and there are moments when the ensemble playing almost feels like the star of the show. But of course, more often, it’s the songs. From Sinatra’s This Town, here a dark, moody opener played with striking purpose, through to a version of The In Crowd that is just Barber’s piano and voice dancing (all song) with bassist Mulcahy’s lithe, supple flow. And then the closing ballad, Stevie Wonder’s All In Love Is Fair. The band on very soft simmer, brushes and hushed bass – the keys and voice telling the story. And making it feel like the greatest jazz ballad of all time. The most meaningful.
Nice to be reconnected with Barber’s voice – she has such a way of filling the song with her air, never sending it off course in the process. She reminds you that great music is about connection and you feel her connection to these songs. So palpable, so pleasing.