penultimate evening of the 2011 Montreal
International Jazz Festival, I attended three very
good concerts by three well-known divas, with the understanding
that I would only be reviewing one of them.
other two were enjoying top billing and larger venues, I certainly
didn’t expect I’d end up going with Jill Barber. But
at the end of the day, after asking myself who I would like to
see again, and why, the matter was settled.
are good reasons why Jill Barber has been making Montreal a regular
port of call during the past two years. She’s an exceptionally
talented songwriter, comfortable in country, pop and jazz; and
she only has to enter two bars of song into the public domain
for audiences to know that the writing comes from deep within
and from experience hard earned. If she sounds older than her
years, it’s because she already ranks among Canada’s
elite female singers, many of whom are among the best in the world.
at once spellbinding and disarming performance at Montreal’s
Club Soda, she performed mostly selections from her latest CD,
Mischievous Moon, which, in terms of its more complicated
and nuanced arrangements, represents a significant advance over
her critically acclaimed Chances (2008), which marked
Barber’s coming out as a jazz singer.
is attracted to the romantic sound we associate with the 1940s
and 50s, songs marinated in love and heartbreak or fabricated
in the dizzying altitudes of happy endings and all your "dreams
can come true." She brings an authenticity to her music that
listeners cannot resist. In fact, I can’t think of another
singer with whom audiences so quickly and personally connect.
She dares to open up her heart such that we feel honoured and
privileged to be let in, and this very special understanding grows
with successive listenings.
which she shares with Les Cooper, perfectly captures the optimism
and naivité of a bygone era. Her feel for the standards
is uncanny, and yet the sound never sounds contrived. Her original
compositions already represent a significant contribution to a
time-tested genre to which more and more listeners are turning
in response to the inclinations of the heart and dearth of melody
in contemporary music.
the voice -- the cadence, the lilt, the artful inflection -- that
ultimately delivers the mail and draws us to the person and performer
that is Jill Barber. Like Diana Krall, her tone (timbre) seems
born for the silk’n’breezy bossa nova, but it can
also quaver on a raw nerve of emotion or soar into some undescribable
felicity. In short, she can do almost anything she wants with
it; and whatever delicate shade of scale she brings to a song,
it’s so up-close and personal you can almost feel it tingle
on your skin.
all due respect to the follow-the-leader reviews that dutifully
describe her voice as smoky and sultry, it’s much more than
that: from one moment to the next it can be wise and wistful and
then unbearably plaintive and fragile as it speaks to the fragility
of relationships – that sometimes last. There were moments
during the live concert where the place seemed to fall still in
a quiet trembling, such is Barber’s unique ability to infuse
a venue with her ever so delicate and dignified revelations. Her
music just doesn’t fill space, it transforms it like a soft
spray breathes away a dry spot in a lonely heart.
Moon, purists will take issue with the excessive use of strings
and overwrought arrangements, wondering why Barber and team decided
against the club generated sound for the refinements of studio.
As is often the case in jazz, the live performance is at variance
with the recorded version, and Mischievous Moon is no
exception. I preferred the live show, especially the judicious
use of the violin, and would have liked to hear more guitar and
voice pairings. But this is to quibble when the quality and consistency
of original music and deft arrangements more than offset the occasional
too much of a good thing that wasn't cut out in the production
phase. Either way, it’s only a matter of exposure for Jill
Barber to become one of our “favourite things.”
Canada produces more top quality female singers than any other
country in the world, it’s tempting to be blasé before
that fact that at 31-years-young, Jill Barber already does that
tradition proud. Which is to say, be sure to catch her rising
star the next time she comes to a venue near you.
Photo © Frédérique