We Do Need Yet Another café blue  After All!

“Do we really need yet another version of Patricia Barber’s café blue? was my reaction upon hearing about IMPEX Records’ new $125 “One-Step” edition of this more than a quarter century old (1994) Premonition release.

After listening to the original and all subsequent reissues, the answer is clearly “yes”. The original Jim Anderson digital recording (16/48 PCM) was first available only on CD. Later, as I recounted in a 2012 post headlined Barber Classic Remixed at Capitol, Premonition’s Michael Friedman chose in 1994 to release a vinyl edition at a time when the LP record was seriously out of favor. He went to Greg Calbi, who at the time had left Sterling Sound for Masterdisk, and along with Jim Anderson, supervised a truncated vinyl edition (the entire CD would not comfortably fit on a single LP), leaving off “Mourning Grace” “Romanesque” and “Yellow Car III”. The mastering credit read “Mastered….directly from the session source material”—a digital dodge.

The album was not Barber’s first, but because of the production and how it was promoted, café blue gained for her a strong audiophile following, solidified thereafter with a series of equally fine sounding Anderson engineered, musically solid releases. When she played a few years ago to a large, ballroom filling AXPONA crowd, it was clear to all who attended that Barber was not merely a recording studio phenomenon but rather a consummate live performer and commanding (classically trained) jazz pianist who knew how to wow a crowd.

Barber recorded café blue as part of a quartet that had been playing together live for quite some time. As I wrote back in 2012, “….(she’s backed by a) trio that dazzles with audacious improvisations and lock-step communication even as it clears space for Barber's vocals and meshes effortlessly with her expressive piano. It's jazz of course but John McLean's guitar work brings it into a rock space, while the A&R work that covers everything from "Ode to Billy Joe" to "The Thrill is Gone" and Miles' "Nardis" defies genre-fication.” In that write-up I left out Barber’s own compositional gifts.

For the original Chicago Recording Company mix Anderson used a stairwell as a “reverb chamber” that gave the recording a unique sound Anderson in 2011 described as the sound of “lethargy,” of “beatniks” and of “poets.”

Of the original vinyl release (licensed and released by Music Direct) I wrote “(It) was at best OK, but given how great was the recording, it sounded pretty good and became a vinyl audiophile favorite at a time when few new records were being pressed.” The jacket was a thin direct board type (not sure of the tech printing term for it), unlaminated and visually lackluster but at the time vinyl beggars were hardly choosy.

In 2004 Mobile Fidelity released a 3 record (2.5 sides) box set of the original CD program sourced using the original mix, ½ speed mastered by Paul Stubblebine.

Then, in 2011 Premonition’s Michael Friedman and Jim Anderson undertook a café blue remix in Capitol Records’ legendary Neve 8068 console equipped Studio B using in place of a stairwell, EMT plate reverb along with Capitol Records’ legendary under the parking lot reverb chamber used by Frank, Nat, Peggy and the others to produce some of the greatest records of all time.

Bob Ludwig mastered the resulting mixes, this time transferred to analog tape, and for the double LP set that included all of the original tracks, the late Doug Sax cut lacquers at The Mastering Lab, in Ojai, California. The laminated gatefold “tip- on” packaging was a major improvement over the original and included notes from Friedman, Anderson and Stereophile contributing editor Thomas Conrad.

Though the new double LP included all of the tracks, the running order had changed, and I’m not delving into why or how it affected how fans experienced the album other than to say that the sound was much improved: warmer, fuller and richer, with greater depth and spaciousness and the original’s ever present slight edge taken off.

Spend some time on Discogs and you’ll see how valuable these earlier versions have now become. Clearly a new reissue, taking things to the max, seemed to Impex like a very good idea. With the original 1994 single LP vinyl edition cut from digital selling now for upwards of $165 a new deluxe one-step edition selling for less is a good idea.

The new edition of café blue cut from the same analog mixdown tape used for the 2011 reissue, but with tracks assembled in a different running order comes packaged in a super-deluxe slip case similar to the one Craft used for its Lush Life reissue in which is a triple-gatefold tip-on jacket, the outer two of which contain the 2 180 gram LPs pressed on Neotech semi-transparent VR 900 Supreme semi-transparent super-quiet vinyl compound. The center pocket contains a full-sized color glossy booklet that attractively repackages the annotation and photographs included in the 2011 release’s gatefold plus new notes by P.B..

The running order more closely adheres to the original 1994 CD and Mobile Fidelity’s 2004 3 LP box set though with the 57 second “ wake up from a nightmare and get a grip on the reality of a chest of drawers” interlude ("Wood Is a Pleasant Thing to Think About") moved from its intrusive side 3 opening position to a more appropriate side 4 bridge between a cover of Miles Davis’s Bill Evans associated composition “Nardis”and the oft-covered Bonfa/Jobim “Mahna De Carnaval” closer, better known as “The Theme From Black Orpheus” or with lyrics as “A Day in the Life of a Fool”—a perfect, downcast ending for a pretty dark album well-explained by P.B. in newly written (December, 2019) liner notes. A life-long asthmatic, Barber recounts growing up sidelined by the condition from the usual childhood joys only to have it put her at age 37 again out of commission for an entire year. “The emotion you hear in the songs on café blue”, she writes, “is some combination of my sadness at being imprisoned, my love for music and life, and my joy in seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

Songs of sickness, loss, death-acceptance, being overwhelmed and suicide have never sounded so good or been so well packaged. So, yes, we do need yet another café blue and honestly, even if you already have a copy (especially the original pressing, or the Mo-Fi, which on some songs like “Ode to Billy Joe” sound as if Barber’s voice was out of phase and almost “canceled out”—never mind it was sourced from the original inferior mix) and love the music and the sound, you too need another copy. This one. You can then sell on Discogs what you now have and maybe even make a profit. Dare I say it? Yes: café blue is the perfect pandemic companion (not to be confused with P.B.’s album Companion).

Music Direct Buy It Now

azrockitman's picture

I couldn't make it through more than 60 seconds of "What a Shame" before ordering this. Man, where I have been. That song alone is worth the price of admission. It's backordered but I'll be anxious for the arrival whenever it shows up. That's for the amazing focus on this record.

jazz's picture

..how does it behave in terms of sibliance?

The Doug Sax one isn’t too good in that, but great otherwise....or do I confuse it with “The companion”...

jazz's picture

...how does it perform in terms of sibliance where the Doug Sax one isn’t perfect imo.

Michael Fremer's picture
The Sax cut has issues for some cartridges. During this review I played both the Sax and this new one using 3 different cartridges. It sailed through on two and had some trouble on one. The new cut is better but I found that a perfectly clean stylus and tracking near the max recommended VTF was necessary and then it was fine. The issue isn't the cut as much as it's system and set-up dependent...
jazz's picture

that “The Companion” Doug Sax release has noticeable sibliance issues while the Mofi Companion sounds absolutely clean. Sibliance seems to be an issue of cutting and mastering, too, not only playback.

Michael Fremer's picture
Greg Calbi told me today that he remembers the sibilant issues cutting the original in 1995
jazz's picture

..besides the fact that classical music has its loudest levels at inner grooves...is the biggest limitation of vinyl playback imo, as it’s not that rare. Independent of the otherwise better sound and the slightly differing cartridge sensibility to sibliance.

ramseurrecords's picture

Though I am a bigger fan of "The Jam" I would still like to see this done with Cafe Bleu by The Style Council.

louv610's picture
jazz's picture

I mean really...

Michael Fremer's picture
No gots but remember the recording was 16 bit, 48k PCM
mb's picture

I still haven’t figured out why they called this “UN-mastered”. As near as I can tell from everything I’ve read about this released, the noteworthy thing about this release was it was re-mixed. Nor was it un-mastered or not mastered or whatever; as near as I can tell, it was indeed mastered.

I guess UN-mastered sounds sexier from a marketing perspective than, say, “Cafe Blue: The Capitol Chamber Reverb Re-Mix”. But it sure causes confusion...particularly for those who don’t really know the difference between mixing and mastering.

2_channel_ears's picture

Is this really being released? It has been on "pre-order" for eons, and the date pushed and pushed again and again.

Aleksander86's picture

Yes, I have one copy. It's fantastic!

Glotz's picture

Elusive Disc just took my order a few minutes ago... and January 29th appears to be the release date.

Off topic- Michael, is Malachi doing well? Is he still writing for the site?? I can only hope that he is.

Aleksander86's picture

maybe december, I don't remember.

Glotz's picture

and it's frustrating. I started wondering what was going on with the SRV 'Couldn't Stand The Weather" One-Step from MoFi. It showed last week, but updates on MD's website could/should have been more frequent and informative.

When Michael completes a review I can be sure that the release is imminent!

His track record is awesome, and his thoughtful consideration to the buyer is unparalleled!

PS- $600 for the reel-to-reel! Wow.. I bet it is absolutely amazing on a great deck! I can only imagine!

Glotz's picture

I have a tracking number. It did ship... and Michael was on point again.

Glotz's picture

FYI.. from Elusive Disc / Fedex.

Michael Fremer's picture
Is taking a short break to concentrate on school, which believe it or not, is more important than writing for AnalogPlanet. He hopes to return soon, writing in measured amounts.
Glotz's picture

Is he graduating from college this year?? LOL...

Thank you Michael! It's my birthday! I'm OLD! lol

Forever '49' (for 4 years now... )

PeterPani's picture
kimi imacman's picture

That’s two in a row ‘non-reviews’ after Lush Life. Nice history of the releases but not a single word about the sound and what qualifies this as “need yet another”! You must be finally running out of superlatives:-))

AnalogJ's picture

I was friends with Barber's manager. He told me at the time that Cafe Blue and Modern Cool had digital and analog tape recorders running simultaneously with the intention of putting the record out both on digital and vinyl. The original LP was truncated and the running order of the tunes altered to keep the original cost of the LP down. (Patricia Barber was NOT happy with that last aspect. She was not consulted on it, as she told me between sets when we got to hang out a bit together once when she was at the Regattabar.). But the sound of the LP is wonderful compared to the CD. There's tons of dynamics on it, and the textures are full of harmonic richness. Perhaps it could get even better? I'm not ruling that out.

I never got the MoFi 3LP set, as I have the quite decent original CD for the original running order and the original, all-analog LP, which as I stated above, is really excellent.

John McLean moved on from Barber, now being Kurt Elling's touring guitarist. I got to talk with him after an Elling gig about working with Patricia Barber. He continues to be an astonishing, creative player, creating solos that are full of surprises, and tastefully supporting when not soloing.

Regarding this reissue, I am curious, though, why Impex chose to put this new one on two-45s rather than the three MoFi thought was needed for the best sound? I read above that you thought the layout of the tunes for this reissue made more sense, but there's over 62 minutes of music on this record. Over four sides, that's about 15 1/2 minutes per side. That's not optimal for cutting 45rpm LPs. Optimal is maximum 12 minutes according to engineers I have talked to (although certainly records have been cut with more, but it compromises the sound to some extent.). I have tried writing Impex, twice, and have received no response. Perhaps being cut on extremely quiet vinyl allowed them to cut at a lower volume and use a bit more of the real estate on each side. I don't know. But at $125, while it's cheaper than what the MoFi goes for (and lord knows, the MoFi 3-record set was highly praised at the time), it's still a lot of change.

In any event, a GREAT album. I'll say this, though, what was cut out of Cafe Blue for the original LP is not as critical to the album, in my opinion, as to what they had to cut out of Modern Cool in order to get that album to fit on one disc.

kimi imacman's picture

Michael shoots from the hip and misses...again. Face plant!

Michael Fremer's picture
I will ask Greg Calbi if he remembers what he cut from. Why was the source credit on the original LP jacket so coy? It didn't say cut from original master tape, did it? No. It didn't. It said "mastered from the session source material". Other than on that album I've not seen that language used anywhere
Michael Fremer's picture
This entire thread about an original analog tape source is 100% incorrect. What I wrote was 100% correct. These all began as digital recordings and digital mixes. The 2011 mixes were to analog tape.
jazz's picture

every remastering except the 1994 Greg Calbi Premonition original was done from digital master?

AnalogJ's picture

To whom are you addressing your question?

jazz's picture

...as you have some insider knowledge.I understood that only the first pressing was from the analog tapes?

AnalogJ's picture

The manager and I only had a conversation about the original LP. And I have to assume he knew what he was talking about. It's a pretty specific thing to talk about, and at the time, it wouldn't have occurred to me to run tape and digital recorders simultaneously, so it certainly wasn't something I would have brought up.

So my certainty goes as far as his word. I'll reiterate that I wasn't in the studio myself.

As far as the subsequent releases, I have assumed that since an analog tape was used for the initial recording, that it was used for the MoFi 45rpm. But that's an assumption on my part. I only bought the Companion set. I'll take a look at the credits for that. I have no idea how it was recorded. The manager and I never had a conversation about that release, as I recall.

jazz's picture

can tell something about what source was used for the Premonition/Calbi, Mofi, Doug Sax, IMPEX releases of Cafe Blue and also Companion.

Michael Fremer's picture
The Premonition/Calbi LP was cut from a digital master. Jim Anderson just confirmed to me that there was no analog mix or analog tape for the originals. He also just told me :"the remix from 2011 had analogue tape running for the mix, as has every release since Modern Cool". So the SAX, IMPEX and Companion reissues were cut from tape sourced from digital multitrack.
jazz's picture


AnalogJ's picture

I meant the first pressing of Cafe Blue. We also talked about Modern Cool when it was coming out on Premonition Records on a single LP. Same story. Simultaneous digital and analog recorders running for that.

Michael Fremer's picture
These were digital recordings. Period. The remixes were done to analog tape from the digital multitrack.
Michael Fremer's picture
If the original was cut from tape why was the album source credit so coy?
Michael Fremer's picture
So Mo-Fi cut from a digital master. All had original digital masters. Only the remixes were done to tape from the digital multitrack.
Michael Fremer's picture
Period. Until the remixes.
Michael Fremer's picture
The manager should stick to managing. Jim Anderson who engineered these albums just emailed and wrote: "The first mix of Café in 1994 was digital only and the remix from 2011 had analogue tape running for the mix, as has every release since "Modern Cool".
kimi imacman's picture

I stand corrected Michael. When we live in a time when our respective governments seemed determined to frighten the shit out of us and make our lives utterly miserable you singlehandedly put a massive smile across my face!
You, the ‘High Priest’ of the vinyl revival trump the all knowing ‘Oracle’ of all things music, thank you.

AnalogJ's picture

I can't prove it as I wasn't there at the time of recording, but he and I specifically had these conversations about the recordings. And it wasn't me who brought it up, it was him. So it's odd to read and hear that it's not the case.

So the only thing that I can verify is how they sound now, and I placed an order for it. I'll report back here, comparing it to my single LP original.

But it's weird that her manager would bring it up and be so sure about it if it weren't true. And that may be the case. I have lost touch with him (and I don't remember his name off-hand, unfortunately). After we became friendly, he used to send me label promotional albums to get my opinion.

AnalogJ's picture

The back of the original single disc LP credits state:

"Mastered by Greg Calbi at Masterdisc, New York, NY directly from the analog master tapes".

"Vinyl issue Supervised by Jim Anderson and Michael Friedman".

"Executive Producer: Michael Friedman

"Recorded and mixed by Jim Anderson"

These are obviously the two who were in "The Room Where It Happened". But again, weird to have such a strong, specific statement from another close source.

Michael Fremer's picture
Firstly Masterdisk ends with a K not a C. Secondly, my original Premonition "cafe blue" LP mastered by Greg Calbi says no such thing re "directly from the analog master tapes". It says, as I wrote in the review, "Mastered by Greg Calbi at Masterdisk NY, NY. directly from the session source material." You'd have to send me the image of it saying "directly from the analog master tapes" because I'm highly skeptical. Sorry, but I am.

AnalogJ's picture

I'm looking at the back of the original LP of Modern Cool (sorry about the confusion). Her manager and I had talked about both Cafe Blue and Modern Cool, but my quotes are from the back cover of Modern Cool. Do you have an original of that, Michael? If not, I'll take a photo of the back and email it to you so you can see for yourself.


Steelhead's picture

I have the mofi sacd's of cafe blue and companion (as well as couple of others that I rarely spin). I also sprang for the unmastered sacd of cafe blue

I also have Companion on vinyl on I believe Premonition. Guess I will have to pull it and play it but do not recall sibilance being an issue with the vinyl copy I have.

The sacd's are fantastic and I love her singing, arrangements, and band. I am more of a rocker so not a jazz aficiando but she is a sterling performer and talent to me

I ordered this release from Music Direct and thought it was readily available when I placed it. I then got the notice that it was back ordered so I decided to cancel. Did not want to wait months or however long and the sacds are all I really need and works for me. Spent the money on pre-ordering the one step Pearl instead of the Impex Barber but I am tempted as I love Cafe Blue.

MikeT's picture

I understand that Mike has a link to purchase this LP at Music Direct, but it seems Impex allows Elusivedisc first crack at selling their product (similiar to Mofi being sold first at Music Direct, Analogue Production being sold first at Acoustic Sounds). I purchased my copy from Elusive Disc.

mraudioguru's picture

...Jim Davis owns Music Direct AND Mobile Fidelity, so of course, Music Direct will sell MOFI first.

Same as Chad Kassem owning Acoustic Sounds and Analogue Productions.

Not sure, but I don't think Elusive Disc has a vested interest in Impex.

I saw this posted for pre-sale at almost all the online sellers. Actually, I think Acoustic Sounds had it listed first.

Michael Fremer's picture
Does have an IMPEX connection
mraudioguru's picture

...is it?