Patricia Barber: Modern Cool

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Premonition Records; P.O. Box 477621, Chicago, IL 60647; (800) 457-1374; www.premonitionandmusic.com

Chicago's Patricia Barber stretches the notion of jazz singing the way Joni Mitchell reinvents what it means to be a folk singer-songwriter. Playing spare piano and accompanied in unconventional arrangements by acoustic bass, electric guitar, and drums or percussion, with cutting-edge jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas contributing to several tracks, Barber teases new meaning from such unlikely covers as Paul Anka's "She's a Lady." Her sardonic side comes out on her original compositions, where she dissects "superficial charm" in "Touch of Trash," pre-millennial pretensions in "Postmodern Blues," and commodified relationships in "Company." Yet her whispering evocations of the heart's emotional climate ("Winter," "Let It Rain," "Silent Partner") are as unguarded and supple as those of Billie Holiday.