Barber's Café Blue Up Close at 45rpm

First issued on Premonition CD in 1994 and later on limited edition LP (licensed by Music Direct, which now owns the Mobile Fidelity name) with three tracks deleted due to space limitations, and then on Mo-Fi SACD, Café Blue now gets the 3 LP 45rpm treatment, _ speed mastered by Paul Stubblebine using Mobile Fidelity's Gain 2 Ultra Analog System™.

Barber's brand of smoky, sultry jazz doesn't appeal to all tastes, but in reasonable doses (what with a new 2 LP live issue from Blue Note/Classic, plus all of the other titles and formats Barber risks overexposure), it goes down easy, aided greatly by Jim Anderson's superb recordings and mixes-analog, digital or whatever.

This set established Barber's “audiophile” bona fides. Her finger snapping, slow burning hipster take on Bobby Gentry's “Ode to Billy Joe” remains a set highlight, delightful for the arrangement, the performance and of course for the riveting sonics. The finger snaps, Michael Arnapol's upright bass and Barber's steamy reading, epitomize the Chicagoan's unique style, which hasn't changed all that much-at least on the surface-in more than a decade.

The rest of the material consists of standards like “The Thrill is Gone,” “Manha de Carnaval,” “Inch Worm,” and “A Taste of Honey,” as well as four Barber originals, Maya Angelou poem set to music by Barber, and Miles Davis's “Nardis.” So this is the first LP edition including the entire original set.

Sonically, the 3 45s offer spectacular sound compared to the original vinyl. Expanding the length of the waves etched into the grooves makes tracking easier, and you can bet sibilants are delivered smoothly and without smear and distortion. If your results differ, you need to adjust your set-up.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that Barber is an “audiophile phenomenon,” because her popularity extends well beyond our little ghetto, and she's a worldwide phenomenon. This quartet set, wherein she's backed by guitar, bass and drums, puts all of her considerable gifts on display-including her spare but tasty piano playing, which she ramps up on subsequent releases.

No doubt about it: you pay dearly for this set, but if you're looking for a musically satisfying, sonic spectacular, with a bottom end wallop, this is it-however it was recorded, and whatever the source. Best of all, it stands up to repeated listenings. I've been at it for well over a decade and still enjoy the spin-all the moreso at 45rpm.