With her new, much anticipated song-cycle Mythologies, pianist-composer Patricia Barber becomes the latest artist to fall under the sway of these enchanting tales of enchantment. Borrowing characters from Ovid’s tales, Barber seeks to offer contemporary takes on the man who fell in love with his own creation (Pygmalion), he who flew too close to the sun (Icarus), she who is responsible for our three (or more) months of winter (Persephone), and that vain demigod who fell in love with his own reflection (Narcissus).
In 2005-06 Patricia Barber premieres a brilliant song cycle. Entitled Mythologies, both lyrics and music were written by Barber with the aid of a prestigious year-long Guggenheim grant for Composition. Each song is a character portrait drawn from the timeless stories of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and modernized, becoming commentaries on our own times. “Orpheus,” god of music, is a widower who laments his lost love in a sonnet set to music, his voice a guitar wailing over a funereal bass drum; “Hunger” a “thin-is-in” virago, served up as a postmodern reggae, whose craving to devour others turns into a feast of self-satisfaction.
“Morpheus,” god of dreams, is an intricate harmonic sculpture of long-breathed melody yearning for rest; “Pygmalion” is a sexy song about a lover whose will to possess is stronger than hers to resist. The other characters include the Moon, Oedipus, Icarus, Phaeton, the Hours, and Narcissus. Ten songs in all, Mythologies is arranged for Patricia with small jazz ensemble and runs for about 75 minutes.
The first song in the cycle, “Whiteworld” (Oedipus), recorded on Barber’s recent Live: A Fortnight in France has already garnered critical acclaim and a popular mandate as audiences shout for the song to be performed in encores.
Mythologies, an utterly original statement, promises to make a stunning intervention into the history of jazz, fusing the genre with classical new music and a range of pop and world idioms in Barber’s inimitably personal voice. This is jazz on the frontier, the music the critics are buzzing about. It is music people will be talking about for a long time to come.
“(a) dark sense of humor mingling with a bright musicality.” – downbeat
“Barber, for my money the single most interesting female American jazz singer on the contemporary scene, has remained an uncompromisingly brilliant innovator.” – jazztimes.
11. The Hours