Sometimes real words just get in the way of a good song.
At least in the hands of singer and pianist Patricia Barber, who opened her July 18 jazz festival show with an emotional tune that featured wordless vocals as she led a great trio with bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer Jon Deitemyer.
Barber -- an inventive singer, songwriter and pianist -- treated a loudly appreciative audience to her own material, much of it from her latest album, Smash, but also music by Joni Mitchell, Canned Heat and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
The Chicagoan, who could be likened to a jazz musician version of an impressionistic painter, was supposed to front a quartet but had trouble getting a suitable replacement for regular guitarist Jon Kregor, who stayed home with his pregnant wife.
The trio was a treat, however, even if the title track from her new album couldn't be performed because it requires a guitar.
Songs from Smash -- The Storytellers and Missing -- made appearances early in the first set. Missing is an especially poignant song.
Bass player Mulcahy played well all night as a sensitive accompanist and very good soloist, but he shone brightest on the tune On the Road Again by blues/rock band Canned Heat. On the surface it could have used a guitar, but the bass carried the tune in one of the concert's fan favourites.
Barber praised Canadian singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall and k.d. lang before performing Mitchell's A Case of You solo.
Drummer Deitemyer also easily handled comping and soloing roles, but really shone on the jazz classic Caravan, written by Ellington band member Juan Tizol. Deitemyer opened the piece with a great solo and took an even better one during the performance.
Barber's ability to write witty lyrics is always evident, but no more so than in her composition Snow from the album Cole Porter Mix. And what better way to pay homage to a celebrated lyricist than by matching wits with him.
Devil's Food, another song from Smash, was a highlight with its incessant bass-drum intro and tale of love.
The concert closer, again from Smash, was Scream, a song whose musicality left the audience happy despite its dark lyrics.
Barber is just such an impressive vocalist, pianist and composer.
The Winnipeg International Jazz Festival runs through Sunday, June 23.