There is no doubt that I am a fan of Patricia Barber. Even since I heard her album Nightclub released in 2000, I have followed her career and have been fortunate enough to see her and her band live a few times in jazz clubs in NYC. Ms. Barber’s compositions have been described as a mixture of jazz, poetry and art songs. As great as her compositions are, I have always been most fond of her creative and unique covers of songs from the cannon of the Great American Songbook as well as more recent popular songs. Her piano playing is beyond reproach as she mixes jazz and classical styles into her playing, which while present in her recordings, really shine in a live setting.
Another feature of Ms. Barber’s recordings, is the engineering prowess of her long time recording engineer, Jim Anderson. Jim, it seems, has worked with almost everyone in jazz and always seems to produce wonderful sounding recordings, filled with warmth, space, detail and dynamics. Given Patricia’s writing style, she and Jim seem to be the perfect pairing. This is demonstrated by how often their recordings are used as demo material at audio shows.
When Ms. Barber’s last album, Higher was released in 2019, I was thrilled when Jim advised me that her next album would be a follow up to Nightclub, featuring mostly covers of popular music. Little did I know at the time that this recording, Clique, was already, as they say, in the can.
Higher was recorded at the Chicago Recording Company in Ms. Barber’s home base of, where else, Chicago. I believe that most of her studio collaborations with Jim were recorded there. When they finished the recording of Higher, they had studio time left and Jim suggested that they continue recording, this time focusing on material the band plays regularly live. Patricia and the band huddled and came back with a set of what they referred to as “fun songs”, songs that they usually played as encores. What resulted is the new release, Clique.
For this writer, Clique is Patricia Barber’s finest recording both sonically and artistically. The album, as was the case with Higher, was recorded by the dynamic duo of Jim Anderson and his wife Ulrike Schwarz Anderson. Ulricke is well known herself As a preeminent recording engineer specializing in classical recordings and has won a Grammy for immersive sound. She is an expert in DXD and has been quoted as saying, “once you go DXD, you never go back.” I know there are some in the audiophile world who think resolution on the level of DXD is overkill but, you may change your mind when you hear this recording. As good as Higher sounds, Clique sounds better. I was provided with the 32/352.8 files which Audirvāna Studio converted to 32/192 for playback through my Schiit Yggdrasil. I don’t think I have experienced a better sounding recording in my system. The sound is clear, quiet, detailed, warm and dynamic. Utterly three dimensional with a sense of space and pure tone. Is it the DXD or the mics and Jim and Ulrike’s engineering prowess that accounts for this level of quality? I don’t know but it sure sounds fantastic. For those interested, the album was recorded with the Merging Technologies Horus with the Merging + clock-U ultra noise clock onto a gaming laptop especially built by and for Ulricke with an 8 TB solid state hard drive. Ulrike has advised me that with this system, the noise floor is so low it is essentially nonexistent. Listening to the album, I can believe it. The album is all full takes and was edited with Pyramix Merging Technologies software, mixed at Skywalker Sound and mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. All power during the recording session was supplied using Essential Sound Products Music Cord Pro ES power cords and power distributors which I have reviewed previously on Audiophile Style.
As for the music, I am reminded of a quote by the great bass player, Ray Brown. He stated that if you are going to do someone else’s material, make sure you put a new dress on it. That is what Ms. Barber has been doing for years and doing it as well if not better than anyone. At first listen, one can tell immediately that the band has been playing this music for years. The band and the arrangements are tight. The mood is relaxed but still full of the dynamics and emotional twists that one has come to expect from a Patricia Barber album. While retaining her usually rich harmonic structures, the music is readily accessible by the causal jazz fan. If you are unfamiliar with Patricia Barber’s music, this is the recording to start with.
Clique consists of a total of 9 songs, with only one original, Mashup. All of the performances are wonderful but I have three favorites. The first is track one, This Town, the Frank Sinatra hit from the 1960’s that was featured in the film Oceans 13. This is a complete reimagining of the song. Gone is the typical big band Sinatra arrangement, replaced with a cool hip ‘60’s vibe. The next is track 2, Trouble is a Man, penned by Alec Wilder. This is an underrated song, even though it has been covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. The closest version I could find to the cut on the album was by Peggy Lee from the 1940’s. This is a great song and a wonderful arrangement, beautifully accompanied by Patrick Mulcahy on bass and Jon Deitemyer on drums. As good as the cuts on the album are, the show stopper is track number 9, the Stevie Wonder tune, All is Fair in Love. I may go out on a limb, but I feel that this track is Ms. Barber’s finest recorded vocal effort. The track is dripping with pathos, intensely emotional. The arrangement is also damn near perfect. It starts with classically tinged piano fills with the vocal hanging over the music. At the start of the second verse, in comes block cords on the piano with deep bass lines and fine brush work on the drums, perfectly accompanying the mood of the vocals. When I heard this track end for the first time, all I could think was wow. After about 20 listens, I still feel the same way.
Clique is a compelling release from Patricia Barber. Even if you have not been a fan before, check out this release. You may change your mind. The album can be downloaded exclusively from NativeDSD.com in DXD as well as all flavors, including DSD 1024. Also available is physical media including a SACD hybrid disc containing a 5.1 mix in DSD along with a 2 channel stereo mix in DSD as well as PCM at 16/44.1 (link). The only CD release is a, gulp, MQA CD. Please don’t shoot the messenger. I have been assured that the redbook layer on the SACD is MQA free. I believe also that the album will be available for streaming on Qobuz at 24/192. I am not sure what format will be available on Tidal. A vinyl release is planned by Impex Records in the Spring of 2022.
Please feel free to give this album a listen on the format of your choice. I think you will be glad you did.
For those who want a deeper dive into the recording of Clique, I have included a link below to a Zoom interview I conducted with Patricia Barber, Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz on August 4th. The interview was conducted in coordination with our audio group The Philadelphia Area Audio Group. I hope you enjoy.