Patricia Barber's hot jazz summer starts with her vulnerable version of "All in Love Is Fair"

The singer and pianist puts an ethereal spin on a challenging Stevie Wonder tune in her upcoming album "Clique"

By Kenneth Womack
Published July 9, 2021 3:00PM (EDT)
Patricia Barber (Jimmy Katz)
Patricia Barber (Jimmy Katz)

With the summer in full swing, music lovers might consider cooling things down with jazz singer Patricia Barber's mellow cover version of Stevie Wonder's "All in Love Is Fair." As a standout track from her forthcoming album "Clique," Barber's take on Wonder's iconic tune will find listeners enthralled with the veteran artist's ethereal performance.

In Barber's hands, "All in Love Is Fair" takes on a classic feel. As she told me during a recent interview, "I believe we don't hear the song often enough because it is difficult to sing technically and emotionally. The structure and harmony lead the ear to a fragile apex where your voice is suspended in all its strength or weakness." But even for a performer of Barber's caliber, "All in Love Is Fair" presents special challenges. "If you pull back," she points out, "everybody will hear it; if your voice cracks, everybody will hear it, if you change from chest voice to head voice, everybody will hear it; if you are lying, or absent, everybody will hear that, too."

With her latest album, Barber assays one classic cut from the Great American Songbook after another. On "Clique," which will be released on August 6, Barber tries her hand at such stalwart compositions as Lee Hazlewood's "This Town," Alec Wilder's "Trouble Is a Man," and Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser." And when it comes to show tunes, Barber serves up such standards as Lerner and Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Shall We Dance?" In addition to her vocals and piano, Barber's jazz trio features Jon Deitemyer on drums and Patrick Mulcahy on acoustic bass, supplemented with Jim Gailloreto on tenor saxophone and Neal Alger on acoustic guitar.

When it came to recording "All in Love Is Fair," Barber felt especially vulnerable, "as if I'm stranded with a piano on a breakaway ice floe." Covering Wonder's song requires "transparency, emptiness, a feeling that you're close to a precipice. Sometimes in concert I start a song and fully expect my band to come in at some point, but to my surprise, they don't. They leave me out there on that ice floe all by myself. It is an ethos of this trio. We embrace 'silence.'"

And it is within those silences that "All in Love Is Fair" truly comes to life. To her great credit, Barber has made a particular effort to accent quietude in her work. "Capturing silence is a high art that comes with work and experience," she told me. "At home, I practiced outlining the harmony while playing the fewest amount of notes."

Listeners have a lot to look forward to with "Clique"'s upcoming release. "The songs from 'Clique' are as fun to play as I hope they are to hear," Barber reports. "They are filled with rhythmic, harmonic, and lyrical hooks, the musical devices that made them hits. We can lean into these hooks, play them inside out, apply a jazz musician's sophistication, or not—just let the rock and roll chords do their seductive thing."

With "All in Love Is Fair," music fans will surely enjoy a taste of things to come.


Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, and "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life." His latest book, co-authored with Jason Kruppa, is "All Things Must Pass Away: Harrison, Clapton & Other Assorted Love Songs."

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Jazz Patricia Barber Review Stevie Wonder