Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: *****
Patricia Barber is an audiophile favorite, and her record label, Premonition, has recently revisited some of her earlier recordings to see if they could be improved on. Although Café Blue was already admired for its sonic quality, last year’s vinyl reissue was a pronounced improvement over both the original CD release and Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s reissue. Remixed, remastered, and pressed by RTI on high-quality, 180gm vinyl, this new edition removed some heavy-handed reverb and presents Barber and her band more honestly and likeably.
Nightclub, Barber’s sixth release, hasn’t been remixed for this vinyl reissue, and it didn’t need to be; its original release in 2000, on Premonition/Blue Note, sounded very good, and that CD was my point of comparison for this version. The credits list Bob Ludwig as the mastering engineer, but Doug Sax cut the lacquers, and Jim Anderson, the original engineer, oversaw the project. RTI once again pressed the two 180gm LPs, which come in heavy plastic sleeves in a beautifully printed, gatefold cardboard cover. The sonic results aren’t as markedly different as Café Blue was from its original release, but Ludwig and Sax have made an already enjoyable record better -- more lifelike, with a deeper, richer soundstage, and more focus on important inner details.
"Bye Bye Blackbird" has been covered so many times that one could have understood had Barber brought to the song a touch of postmodern irony. Instead, she approaches it with respect and a bit of subversive playfulness, skating ahead of the beat at times, then stretching it till it’s ready to snap. Her piano solo is by turns airy and harshly percussive, deconstructing the familiar melody without pulling it completely apart. On this pressing it’s easier to hear the physical impact of Barber’s fingers on the keys in her occasional hard-struck notes, and the harmonic constructions of the chords she uses to build her solo are more clearly delineated. In short, the complexity and beauty of her piano playing benefit from the care brought to this reissue.
Adam Nussbaum’s brushwork has much more clarity and presence, and his kick drum moves more air. Adam Cruz is the drummer in "You Don’t Know Me," and his light taps on the snare and his hi-hat accents are more pronounced on this pressing. Electric guitarist Charlie Hunter’s volume swells in "Alfie" have more authority, and his solo has more foundation -- you can almost feel the warmth of his tube amp. The double bassists are Marc Johnson and Michael Arnopol, and their acoustic instruments have more body and impact on vinyl than on CD. Johnson’s has more depth, and the notes sustain longer than on the CD. Above all, Barber’s voice throughout the album is more real and deep, more intimately in the room with the listener, and her intonation, phrasing, and breath control are even more impressive at such high resolution.
The detail revealed by this pressing also highlights Nightclub’s only weak element. Charlie Hunter provides the bass lines for the three tracks on which he appears, and for whatever reason, they’re mixed a bit too high. That fact was already apparent on the CD but is even more pronounced on the LP, though never so much as to distract. And this slight misstep in an otherwise exemplary recording may simply be a matter of taste.
RTI has shown its usual care in the pressing of the two discs. The vinyl is dead quiet (though, as always, I recommend a cleaning before playing), and the discs themselves are nicely finished -- no rough edges on the outer rims, for example. The reproduction of the photo on the high-gloss cover, especially on the gatefold, is stunning, and the cover is heavy cardboard.
As they did with Café Blue, Premonition changed the song sequence for this edition of Nightclub. The pace of the record is still enjoyable, but I think this is an impulse that reissue producers should resist. I, for one, commit my favorite records to memory so deeply that I anticipate each track as the previous one fades.
With this reissue of Nightclub, Premonition has given Patricia Barber’s 13 performances (the LP includes a bonus track, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town") the reference-quality presentation they deserve.
. . . Joseph Taylor