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Album Reviews

July 05, 1998|Bill Kohlhaase

* * * 1/2


"Modern Cool"


Chicago-based Patricia Barber may be the coolest singer-songwriter around, easily outdistancing such lounge-scene hipsters as Holly Cole, in both taste and intelligence. Like her previous album, "Cafe Blue," "Modern Cool" mixes clever Barber originals with unexpected covers, while showcasing her luscious voice and literate poses. Barber casts a cynical eye on love, art, the music business and makeup, all addressed as images of our dysfunctional times. The musical accompaniment is spare and considered, with trumpeter Dave Douglas taking the most impassioned tone, even as he preserves the music's self-conscious stance. Guitarist John McLean adds atmospherics, sounding like Mike Stern on some cuts, Bill Frisell on others.

Barber plays up sexual twists, making a gender preference statement with her ultra-laid-back rendition of Tom Jones' hit "She's a Lady" and emphasizing with smoldering intent the "girl" from the Doors' "Light My Fire." While the disc's minimalist attractions are undercut by the inclusion of the Choral Thunder Vocal Choir on the last number, its statement on the modern condition, coupled with Barber's dulcet tones, makes it the smartest vocal album aired yet this year.


"The Sea II"


* * *

The fourth in a series of water-inspired recordings from the Norwegian pianist, "The Sea II" paints a shifting, moody backdrop that contrasts the simple interplay of Bjornstad and drummer Jon Christensen with intense, electric statements from guitarist Terje Rypdal and cellist David Darling. The result is something akin to a mix of Impressionism and pointillism, a pleasant pastel surface splashed with pinpricks of light. This is a most meditative, soul-stirring date, which despite its 10 separate compositions, falls together as a single, long rumination.


"Light Breeze"


* *

The title serves to describe Swiss fluegelhornist Ambrosetti's style on this album, as he floats attractively above more rigorous sounds from pianist Antonio Farao, bassist Miroslav Vitous, guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Billy Drummond. Sadly, it also describes the disc's sound. A lack of substantial sonic presence (the drums are especially distant) takes the weight from Ambrosetti's inventive, lyrical play. Turning up the volume brings out the wonderful sense of camaraderie between Ambrosetti, Abercrombie and Vitous.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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