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Patricia Barber: Café Blue (SACD)

These three Patricia Barber albums originally appeared between 1994 and 2000. They have now been reissued in two-channel SACD by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. (Mobile Fidelity was one of the original audiophile record labels, and after nearly shutting down in 1999, has recently resurfaced under new ownership.)

The original CD versions of these albums, all recorded by the respected engineer Jim Anderson, were widely considered to be reference-quality vocal-jazz recordings and were used as demo material in hi-fi stores all over America. Therefore their reappearance in SACD is an excellent opportunity to evaluate the real-world benefits of DSD transfers.

When “Mourning Grace,” the second track on Cafe Blue, first entered the world in 1994, everyone who heard it thought it was hot: the clarity of Barber’s riveting voice; the clean incisions of John McLean’s guitar; the direct attack of Mark Walker’s drums; the shuddering depth of Michael Arnopol’s bass. But if the original is compared to Mobile Fidelity’s new SACD version, the original track that everyone thought was so special sounds dull and condensed. In SACD, there is suddenly wide-open air around Walker’s cymbals and his snare snaps your head back, and McLean’s guitar bites like a viper. On the third track, Barber’s opening recitation of the title line “the thrill is gone,” is clear enough on the original album, but it sounds from another world in SACD. The format puts you in such direct human contact with Barber’s keenings and whisperings that it makes you sit very still in your chair.

Modern Cool and Nightclub are also revelatory in their SACD versions as we are able to hear much further into the deep well of acoustic detail that Jim Anderson provides. The high-frequency smoothness of DSD is perhaps these SACDs’ most impressive virtue. You hear it in Barber’s intake of breath and the decays of her piano notes. More than anything, DSD serves the music. Barber’s extraordinarily evocative voice is able to communicate, with greater immediacy, truths about the modern condition.

Originally Published