Stereo & 5.1 Multichannel DSD 128, DSD 256, DXD & Stereo DSD 512 Editions of Patricia Barber’s Higher – Exclusively Available at NativeDSD!
At High End Munich in 2019, the world’s largest audio show, a special event was held. It was a preview of what Merging Technologies calls “a remarkable album” – singer, pianist, and composer Patricia Barber’s latest music project “Higher”. Barber is a veteran of the Chicago Jazz scene and has received rave reviews of her albums in the audiophile world for many years. The preview at High End Munich provided the invited listeners with a rare opportunity to hear the album in its recorded DXD resolution in Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound.
Until now, listeners could experience Higher as a Stereo CD and Stereo Download. There were also a few chances for audio show attendees to hear Higher in DXD Stereo if they tracked down a Merging Technologies audio demo – or knew the way to Claude Cellier’s listening room. Since that time, many have wondered when they might have a chance to hear this album in its full Stereo and Surround Sound glory.
The Original Resolution Now Available
Now, NativeDSD is very proud to join Patricia Barber, the production and engineering team of Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz at Anderson Audio NY, Seth Godin (Artist Share), and Abey Fonn and Robert Bantz at Impex Records with the worldwide debut of Higher in DXD Stereo, DXD 5.1 Surround Sound as well as DSD Stereo (up to DSD 512) and DSD 5.1 Surround Sound (up to DSD 256).
DXD has been a revelation for veteran producer and recording engineer Jim Anderson, an 11-time Grammy Award Winner. He has established a formidable reputation as an engineer specializing in jazz and acoustic music. His initial involvement with surround came from film music mixing, but his first music-only project was with Patricia Barber and her album “Modern Cool” that won the Grammy and led to two highly successful surround sound albums with Jazz Soprano Saxophone player and Composer Jane Ira Bloom. Ulrike Schwarz sums it up by noting “Once you start with DXD, there is no going back.”
“Throughout my career as a singer, pianist, and songwriter, I’ve been pushing the boundaries of songwriting. I’ve recently been drawn to writing songs that combine lyrical poetry with a rich harmonic language, pulling from classical music as well as the circumscribed system of harmony in jazz and classic American song. Shulamit Ran, composer, friend, and mentor, has been instrumental in teaching me how to access a limitless harmonic vista. This album features “Angels, Birds, and I…,” a new song cycle that portrays this musical adventure, pushing the frontiers of my songwriting all the way into art song. I’m happy to say that classical singers as well as jazz singers are performing these songs.
In 2015 I had the honor of performing “Angels, Birds, and I…” along with other songs of mine at Chicago’s Harris Theater with the incomparable Renée Fleming. Together we also toured my songs in concerts in NY and Washington D.C., and in 2016 Renée sang them at a Carnegie Hall recital. Her performance of “Higher,” a song I wrote for my mother, at the sold-out 4,152-seat Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Champaign-Urbana, was a gift she gave me I will never forget.
In 2016 Augusta Read Thomas and the Ear Taxi New Music Festival asked me to open the festival with these songs. I was honored by the request. The songs are at once “contemporary” and indebted to traditional jazz and classical harmony—art songs that are unique to my synthesis of sonorities and forms and offer a new landscape for singers and instrumentalists.
In addition to “Angels, Birds, and I…,” this album will include some instrumentals and covers, just for fun. We also hope to find an operatic soprano to sing one of the art songs, for my listening pleasure! and yours, of course.
Please join me as I share with you this very personal journey.”
— Patricia Barber
Please note: Mp3 preview excerpts are available for Tracks 1, 5, 6, 9, 10 and 11 only.
Though labelled as ‘5ch’, this recording’s multichannel download edition is a 5.1 Channel Surround Sound edition.
Patricia Barber – Vocals
Neal Alger – Acoustic Guitar
Jim Gailloreto – Tenor Saxophone
Patrick Mulcahy – Bass
Jon Deitemyer – Drums
Total time: 00:48:11
|5.1 Surround Engineers||
Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz
|5.1 Surround Producer||
|ArtistShare Executive Producer||
AccuSound Audio, MusicCord Power Cables
Horus, Merging Technologies with Merging+Clock-U (Ultra Low Noise Clock)
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
Abey Fonn and Robert Bantz (Impex DXD Edition)
Bob Ludwig (DXD), Tom Caulfield (DXD to DSD Transfers)
Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine (DXD), NativeDSD Mastering Labs (DXD to DSD Transfers)
John Hardy M-1 Analog Pre-amps
Brauner, Neumann, B&K, Sanken, Sennheiser
Mixed at Skywalker Sound, a Lucasfilm, Ltd. company, Marin County, CA
|Original Recording Format|
Chicago Recording Company, Studio 5 in Chicago, IL on January 2019
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||August 31, 2020|
The Absolute Sound
Recording of the Month
Like most The Absolute Sound (TAS) readers, I first heard Patricia Barber, whose career here approaches the 40-year mark, on Café Blue. Her 1994 album that made her a star in high-end audio, owing to a superb recording by her long-time engineer Jim Anderson, and among connoisseurs of innovative, cutting-edge jazz.
Although classically trained, she is known for a cool, intense, highly personal style as singer, pianist, and songwriter. Higher, her 18th album and first in the studio since 2013’s Smash, showcases what may be her most ambitious, and surely her most personal, composition yet,
Angels, Birds, and I . . ., a cycle of eight songs she frankly calls art songs (she performed an early version with Renée Fleming in 2016). Dualities inform several of them, from lesbian lovers and a woman leaving her wealthy husband (“the sovereign suburban overlord”) for her free-spirited lover (“a wandering albatross”) to those that inform Barber’s own creativity as pianist, singer, and lyricist.
Layered with multiple meanings, these introspective songs require and reward repeated listening. Inventive takes on three standards from the Great American Songbook fill out the program. The contributions from Barber’s instrumental quartet are first-class. Immediate, close-up, transparent sonics.
All About Jazz
Patricia Barber is more than the sum of her talents. As a composer, she peels back the craft of song to expose its barest textures, cultivating each like a tree that, while holding its own shape above ground, makes apparent the roots below it. As a singer, she understands not only that we perform our voices but also that our voices perform us.
Higher chronicles an extroverted leap of intuition. It’s as much a courageous dive inward, plumbing deeper-than-ever emotional reserves by blending whimsy and seriousness into an organic whole. Its centerpiece is “Angels, Birds, and I…,” an eight-part art song cycle that polishes multiple facets of a modern soul trying to maintain her nonstick coating in an abrasive world.
“I feel very much that this album is a manifestation of my hard-won harmonic evolution,” Barber says. The result of six years’ labor, these sonic dioramas sound at once out of time and utterly relevant: “Art song is its own world. Even though you have these improvisational envelopes, it’s distinct from jazz. The harmonies are much vaster and difficult to put into words. One moment it all sounds new to us, and another it sounds familiar. This album is my own particular way of mixing those two things.”
Through it all, bassist Patrick Mulcahy, drummer Jon Deitemyer, guitarist Neal Alger and saxophonist Jim Gailloreto document every emotional turn of phrase with nothing short of archival assurance. “These musicians have been working with me for a long time,” says Barber. “I was lucky in not needing to travel far to find the best people for this project. Because they’re playing chamber music, they had to approach it differently. They were vital to its development.”
Vital, too, is Barber’s pianism as it winds through a smattering of standards to round out the album. Her rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” is a highlight and stands firm alongside a savvily arranged “Secret Love.” The encore, as it were, comes to us by way of lyric soprano Katherine Werbiansky, whose take on “The Opera Song” gives us another side of the story. By the end of all this, we have encountered songs that change both within their own skins and between them, each a life in miniature waiting to nourish itself on the food of our attention.
Chicago Jazz Magazine
Higher mostly consists of a suite, Angels, Birds, and I . . ., that addresses various natural and preternatural stimuli that initiate much of human art: the muse itself, the seasons, dreams, and longings (including lust), and iconoclasts of the natural world. And if one does not “get” the intent to be extra generic, there’s a piece called “The Opera Song,” which has a second rendition on this album sung by an actual opera singer, Katherine Werbiansky.
This new album bears repeated listening well. Its relative simplicity seems dedicated to the songs that clearly address the context of creation: “Muse,” “Surrender,” “Voyager,” and “Higher” (written for her mother). “Surrender” is amplified by an exquisite Spanish guitar solo from Neil Alger. A metaphorically stated Christmas romance song, “Pallid Angel,” is elevated by a sensuous tenor sax interlude from Jim Gailloreto.
As for her trio, one notes the exquisite bass work of Patrick Mulcahy, whose presence provides continual contrapuntal companionship. Drummer Jon Deitemyer is understated in this environment. We hear more of him during the last part of the release, when the trio gets to play more jazz-oriented material. Like Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Love,” in hushed tones, and Paul Webster/Sammy Fein’s “Secret Love,” a rushed treat, are a yin-yang of theme. Except for Guaraldi-like moments of “Sweet Way,” this is not a noisy collection. Even “Secret Love,” delivered bebop-style, sounds reined in.
“Higher” took several years to reach its destination. With financing through the nonprofit organization ArtistShare and the donations of individual funders, songwriter-singer-pianist Patricia Barber rehearsed and recorded an eight-song cycle of new compositions with her working group of Patrick Mulcahy, bass, and John Deitemeyer, percussion, augmented by former group member, guitarist Neal Alger and frequent live collaborator, saxophonist Jim Gailloreto. At the board was Barber’s longtime engineer Jim Anderson.
The song cycle, entitled “Angels, Birds and I…”, expresses Patricia Barber’s poetic sensibility through the vehicle of literary language wedded to contemporary art music. Though she never refers to her lyrics as poetry, her verses capture the experience of the senses and the workings of a creative imagination.
In addition to the new original songs, the album contains a short set of standards drawn from Barber’s live repertoire. An instrumental version of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” brings focus to her technical dexterity and highly personal piano conception.
“Early Autumn” captures the trio in delicate shades of expression. With subtle brushwork and cymbal accents from drummer Deitemeyer, and an unobtrusive, supportive foundation from bassist Mulcahy, the ensemble updates the classic jazz piano trio for the 21st century. Barber is an outstanding interpreter of songs from the late 1940s. “Early Autumn” was composed by Woody Herman’s pianist-arranger Ralph Burns and the great lyricist Johnny Mercer. Mercer’s melancholy lyrics convey the distance between the romanticized images of love and the growing alienation of mid-century America. The song had fallen into obscurity, but Patricia Barber’s moving performance should lead to its revival.
“Higher” was recorded in 2019 in DXD 352.8. With this release, collectors can enjoy the superb quality of Jim Anderson’s recording, and, like the ArtistShare funders who made the production possible, show support for Patricia Barber’s lifelong project to advance the art of the song.
Stereophile – Recording Of The Month
As a singer and writer, Patricia Barber has never been easy to define. In the audiophile world, she’s too often defined—and her brilliance obscured—by her ubiquity at audio shows and her regrettable membership in a sorority of generic, well-recorded “female vocalists.”
Most of Barber’s early work was obviously Jazz, and today she continues to perform straight-ahead Jazz on Monday nights at Chicago’s Green Mill, where she has appeared for decades. Over time, though, her studio work has shifted toward meticulously accompanied poetry, especially on the albums Verse and Mythologies, and she has been keeping company with opera singers and classical music scholars.
Higher bears the earmarks of an audiophile classic. Music of substance in excellent sound. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered in DXD (24/352.8). Jim Anderson, Barber’s longtime recording engineer, has received 26 Grammy nominations and 10 awards, and Bob Ludwig, the mastering engineer, has received 15 Grammy nominations, 11 Grammy awards, and two Latin Grammys. Together, they’ve created a pristine production in which every whisper and unique color receives due attention. Heard on a high-end system—I summoned Roon to stream files to a dCS Rossini DAC and then to Acoustic Arts Mono II monoblocks and Wilson Audio Alexia 2s using premium cabling and accoutrements—the detail, color, texture, and silence between notes can be counted on to reward the pains we take to assemble a perfectionist audio system.
This review only hints at the mysteries that Barber probes with typical intellect, musicianship, and heart with her pure dark whisper. This is perfect for low light and quiet contemplation. Higher deserves more than a listen.
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