Smoky-noir diva

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If you visit the Green Mill jazz bar in Chicago, you'll probably learn two things. Fact No. 1: The notorious Al Capone once owned (and hung out at) the Green Mill. Fact No. 2: Patricia Barber is the best-kept secret in Chicago. An alluring vocalist who plays Hammond B-3 and piano with tasty precision, Barber has released three excellent albums before this, her major-label debut. On this special live recording conducted within the Green Mill's friendly confines, Barber and her band groove through modern standards (like Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On," Bill Withers' "Use Me" and that perennial blues-rock classic, "Black Magic Woman") with startling elegance. Adding her own compositions and often stretching performances beyond the five-minute mark, Barber establishes herself as a cunning jazz interpreter and a talented composer-bandleader. Embellishing the jazz bar's smoky ambience with her cool demeanor and silky-smooth vocal delivery, Barber proves that she has all the necessary qualities required of a modern-day jazz diva. Her seductively noirish moan-rap on "If This Isn't Jazz" is especially distinctive and compelling.

So if you can't visit the Green Mill, just purchase a copy of Companion (and tell the guy at the record store that Al sent you).

Mitch Myers writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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