Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No.1, 2012

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)
2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney)
Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: JILL BARBER

© Frédérique Ménard-Aubin


For the 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.

As the 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.

There 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.

For her 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.

Barber 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.

The writing, 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.

But it’s 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.

With 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.

In Mischievous 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.”

Since 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 Ménard-Aubin



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