I had business in Chicago early last week, and managed to spend a musical evening with Patricia Barber; this is not hard to arrange there, and I recommend it.
I’ve written here repeatedly about Ms Barber; I might be prepared to argue that she’s the greatest living jazz performer. In any case, she’s clearly the one that touches me the closest. I have a lot of her records and have been to in one live show and look for her on TV.
She’s a Chicagoan and has a semi-permanent gig Mondays at the Green Mill cocktail lounge there. It’s small (capacity 140), dark, intimate, and a little on the grungy side; totally the right place for jazz.
The live-bar experience was actually a little less intense than that stage show I took in a few years ago. The band was relaxed, joking around, fooling with their solos sometimes past the point where probably they should have. The drummer was maybe a little too loud for the space and soloed more than was really necessary. Michael Arnopol didn’t take his double-bass bow out of the case, sigh.
But still... the experience was just wonderful. The quartet has an effortless ebb and flow that just can’t be replicated outside the live-music experience. Patricia’s piano-playing is a revelation, if she weren’t such a hot singer she’d be on anyone’s list of the really important jazz pianists.
And in the bar, Patricia gets a little weird, twisting and turning her head and body (and hands when not actually playing), and interjecting moans and whoops into the ensemble sections and others’ solos; it actually looks something like a mild case of Tourette’s. I thought it added to the intensity and the vocal interjections were musically very effective, she should do more of that in concert.
And by the way, the city of Chicago has a tourist attraction it doesn’t know about. They told me the show was at nine, so I got there at eight and it was pretty empty, I got a nice close seat with a perfect unobstructed view.
By 8:30, the place was jam-packed, standing-room only. And a lot of the people there, like me, were tourists. I heard a lot of French being spoken, and the two guys next to me were Czech. The cover was only $7, and beer was very reasonably priced.
Anyhow, if you’re in Chicago on a Monday and like good music, I’d say you’d be nuts not to drop by.