Patricia Barber's New Companion

Patricia Barber’s familiar, well-loved live album Companion (so designated because Barber conceived of it as a “companion” to her previous studio album Modern Cool) —long available on180g vinyl and CD—is now out on a superb sounding hybrid SACD mastered via Mobile Fidelity’s Gain 2™ system. Three evenings worth of performances at Chicago’s famed Green Mill nightspot captured to high resolution digital by famed jazz engineer Jim Anderson were distilled down by Ms. Barber to create the original album. For this issue she’s allowed Mo-Fi to add the bonus track “You Are My Sunshine,” but all involved decided against a revisionist multi-channel remix, so 2 channels are all you get, which for many will be enough and for the real diehards is one too many.

“Wait a Minute!” I hear some of you say, “the LP notes say it was mastered from an analog tape.” You are correct. However, as the excellent liner notes by Michael Fremer explain, the recording was 24 bit/48k digital, mixed to a 2 track analog Studer deck. Except, that is, for one track which, because the ADAT recorders went on the fritz, was originally recorded directly to a 16 bit/44.1K CD burner. In his notes, Fremer challenges listeners to figure out which track that was.

So here’s a “digital” recording that doesn’t sound at all digital, for those of you pre-disposed against digital. Nor does mixing to analog make it sound analog. It just “sounds.” Good.

As for Ms. Barber’s smoky, sultry vocals and playful arrangements, they are here to be enjoyed repeatedly on this always-enjoyable recording. Barber chose to make her homecoming to the club where she developed her musical persona, a fun experience. That can be heard throughout the set, which includes reworked pop and rock tunes like Sonny Bono’s “The Beat Goes On,” Bill Withers’s “Use Me,” and Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman,” along with Barber originals like “Touch of Trash,” and “If This Isn’t Jazz,” her scathing indictment of “strict constructionist” jazz critics in general and The New York Times specifically.

If you’re a Barber fan without a turntable, you’ll want this version even if you don’t have an SACD player as Mo-Fi’s CD layer handily beats the sound of the original CD—especially in terms of delivering the room’s ambience and space. The SACD layer takes the listening to a whole other level of involvement, as it’s warmer, richer, more three-dimensional and detailed with absolutely pristine—almost scary—percussive transients. Some will say that the SACD even beats the LP. Why? Mo-Fi’s got one bitchin’ analog play back deck, and what ends up in the grooves or in the pits can only be as good as what the original tape’s played back on.

Musically and sonically Mo-Fi’s Companion is a winner.