August 2003

Patricia Barber - Modern Cool
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD-2003
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The original Mobile Fidelity was a company with an A&R department noted for its somewhat eclectic tastes in the material it chose to reissue (to put it mildly). It was also, when all the planets aligned correctly, a company whose quality in remastering set a benchmark for musical reproduction. Today, reborn after bankruptcy under the umbrella of the mail-order house Music Direct, the new Mo-Fi appears to have pared down its eclecticism and is concentrating on reissuing already wonderful-sounding albums as even better-sounding Hybrid SACDs.

Patricia Barber’s Modern Cool easily falls into that category. The original Blue Note/Premonition release was considered by some to be near the pinnacle of CD sonics, and it became something of a staple for audiophile demonstrations worldwide. That being the case, it begs the question of just how much magic the good folks at Mobile Fidelity could work. In a word: SACD. OK, three words: Well-done SACD.

Patricia Barber is a jazz vocalist, pianist and arranger of the first order. Never flashy or hard-edged, she instead uses understatement and a cool, spare approach to both her own compositions and those she chooses to cover. Barber wrote or arranged nine of the 13 selections on Modern Cool. And while she interprets songs by others respectfully, including "You & The Night & The Music," and Lennon and McCartney’s "Fool on the Hill" (a bonus cut on the SACD), she arranges them to highlight her unique talents. This is a highly expressive and entertaining album, one that for those not familiar with Patricia Barber will serve as a superb introduction.

But let’s get back to the real question to be answered -- just how much has Mobile Fidelity’s Hybrid SACD improved on the original CD?

Having owned, listened to, and enjoyed the CD since its release in 1998, I can honestly and enthusiastically state that if you’re an SACD convert, this disc will fulfill your wildest dreams. This SACD will get you about as close as you’re ever going to come to hearing the master tape, short of winning the lottery and buying it for yourself. Every facet of engineer Jim Anderson’s excellent recording is improved, and every audiophile standard is met: a wider, deeper soundstage, more detail of both the micro and macro varieties, and more fullness and richness to each instrument.

But what this SACD does more than anything else is transport you from your room to the recording studio. Mobile Fidelity’s reissue takes an already superb recording and imbues it with an extra sense of realism. You can close your eyes and almost see the musicians standing in front of you -- palpably real people playing and singing in a real space that breathes in and out with the music. It takes an already good CD and ups the ante to the point where that disc cashes in its chips and leaves the table.

If you’re one of those who’s wavering about hi-rez audio, find someone with an SACD player, get this disc, and ask him or her to give you a demonstration. It’s a Hybrid, so you’ll be able to easily compare the two layers for yourself. I’m betting it won’t take you long to appreciate the benefits of SACD in general and this disc in particular. Mobile Fidelity’s reissue of Modern Cool offers the listener most (if not all) of the sonic strengths of vinyl wedded to those of digital, and with digital’s ease of use and convenience. Welcome to the revolution.