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The New IMPEX Patricia Barber Companion 1Step - A Majestic Testament And Tribute To A Wonderful Chicago Tradition

05-30-2024 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 133

Throughout my teenage and adult years in the Chicago area, I had the great fortune to experience some of the biggest and brightest of all the rock, blues and jazz superstars as they passed through The Windy City. The venues included some amazing large settings like Soldier Field, The International Amphitheatre, The United Center, The Auditorium, The Chicago Theater, Ravinia, Poplar Creek, and many more. I am hoping that many of our Chicago area readers are now smiling at the mention of these wonderful institutions.

However, it was the medium to small venues like The Kinetic Playground, The Aragon Ballroom, The Park West, The Vic, The Riviera, The House of Blues, The Plugged Nickel, The Double Door, and Schubus that really left the biggest impression. These offered the most intimacy and a real opportunity to connect with the artists and their bands on stage.

One of my most favorite small nightclubs was The Green Mill Lounge, which has a long and storied history all the way back to the early 1900s. When it first opened, it was a popular stomping ground for actors like Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin, who were often in the movies filmed at The Essanay Movie Studios just a few miles away. Various Chicago gangsters like Al Capone and Frank Nitti also were known to hang out there and find various ways to be entertained. Even several musicians and vocalists like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Al Jolson performed there on stage.

It was at The Green Mill that I was first introduced to the music of Patricia Barber and her band. When not on tour, Patricia has religiously performed on Monday nights at the Green Mill, and this has become a true Chicago tradition for roughly the last 30 years. You could not ask for a better venue to see a smaller and more personal performance! You can clearly feel an aura and a sense of the history as you enter the building and take your seat. How fun and appropriate to begin my journey there with Patricia Barber!

So, when the initial CD and vinyl releases for this live recording were announced from Premonition Records back in 1999, I was supper excited. As stated above, I was able to see Patricia at The Green Mill several times over the years, and I was well aware of the potential performance and experience that could be realized for the listener with a proper recording. Taken from three different nights, we clearly have something very special going on here. My expectations and hopes were high, but the original album exceeded everything that I had yearned for. Even with all of the above in mind, the new IMPEX 1Step reissue has taken it even further!

The Band

When I think of Patricia Barber's music, I think of a wonderful collage or tapestry of poetry, jazz, blues, and pop. Though jazz is clearly the foundation, she is very difficult to define as a performer from any specific genre, and this makes her so much more appealing. She is extremely creative and her spin on many standards and classic hits might really surprise you.

I also think that her skills as a jazz pianist and vocalist are way underrated. She has a unique sense of style and phrasing for both as she demonstrates on each and every track. In a last minute decision, she also decided to utilize the in house Green Mill Hammond B3 organ during the performances. Apparently the band was a little nervous about this, but the result speaks for itself. Such a talented artist!

I must also mention that this band is very skilled and extremely tight in both the studio and during live performances. As stated earlier, when the album was first announced, I was somewhat concerned that the amazing level of musicianship and performance might not shine through like my own experiences at the club. I should never have doubted the superb production team in charge (see below). With an extraordinary amount of high octane power and energy, the presentation is absolutely spectacular and brings back so many fantastic memories. 

John Mclean on guitar contributes a certain level of drive and fire to the music as his solos can sometimes take unexpected twists and turns, well beyond the established grooves and melodies of each song. Eric Montzka and Ruben Alverez on percussion, and Michael Arnopol on bass push the envelope even further as their instruments fill the soundstage from every dimension, and also provide huge leaps of power and authority. 

Vocalist Jason Narducy joins Patricia on "Touch of Trash," and this adds just that little bit of extra excitement to one my favorite Patricia Barber compositions. Together, this is a band to be greatly admired, and I am so pleased that it was all documented properly on these special nights!


We have some of the best in the industry involved with this 2-LP 45 RPM reissue. Multi-award winning engineer Jim Anderson recorded and mixed the original digital recording on site. I loved the pictures provided of Jim hunkered down within the many nooks and crannies of the Green Mill basement with all of his equipment. You can't help but imagine all the secret passages and escape routes during the Prohibition years. Jim also provided the all analog mix down tapes for this 1Step project.

Multi-award winner Bernie Grundman took the handoff and provided the mastering and cut the lacquers at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Supervised by Bryce Wilson and Andy Webb, RTI then pressed the LPs on VR900 Supreme vinyl utilizing the RTI 1Step process. New lacquers were utilized at approximately every 500 pressings for better quality control and consistency. There will be a numbered limited production of 5000 units.

Designer Robert Sliger has once again outdone himself with an impressive level of packaging and presentation. A textured sky blue slip case with white foil lettering makes for a unique and stylish addition to your collection. A heavy weight and super glossy laminated "Monster Pack" trifold outer jacket from Stoughton Printing is about as good as it gets for the industry. We also have a deluxe 16 page booklet with concert photos by Valerie Booth. This includes several comments and memories provided by Patricia Barber of those nights 25 years ago.

We should also note that several members of the IMPEX Records team provided major contributions to the project. This includes Abey Fonn as the producer of this reissue, Robert Bantz as the executive producer, and Bob Donnelly provided quality control throughout the process.


As a huge Patricia Barber fan, and per my earlier narrative about all the Green Mill concerts that I have attended, for me this is one of those important recordings where I do have multiple pressings and formats from multiple labels. Like virtually all of the Patricia Barber albums, the quality of the original recording always shines through regardless of the pressing or the format. Jim Anderson is one of our grandmasters! But, for those of you who are seeking the very best in sound quality, please read on.

At one time, I did have the original Premonition Records pressing that was released in 1999 on a single 33 RPM LP. Though the sound quality was excellent, I sold it to a friend as I thought it did not have the sense of space and three dimensionality of the Premonition Records reissue when it came out in 2013. The reissue was still cut at 33 RPM but was spread across three sides of two LPs. "Black Magic Woman" was cut at 45 RPM on side four. The extra landscape made a significant difference in sound quality to my ears—even at 33 RPM.

In 2003, MOFI released a Gold Hybrid SACD of Companion. In 2005, MOFI released a 45 RPM LP reissue of Companion. Both received high praise and rave reviews by most of the usual suspects. Until this IMPEX 1Step reissue was released, I flipped back and forth between the two MOFI's as my "go to" listen, but I currently prefer the MOFI SACD (believe it or not). The MOFI LP has all the dynamic agility, timbre, and bloom advantages of a typical 45 RPM pressing, but the SACD has an amazing amount of tight and weighty bass that I find quite addictive. If you check Discogs, the SACD has sold as high as $240 and the LP as high as $541.

Now we come to the 45 RPM IMPEX 1Step. Along with the 45 RPM cut, the quiet background of the VR900 Supreme vinyl really makes a difference. I can also guess that the new Bernie Grundman mastering plays a significant role too. His studio continues to evolve and the results are only getting better and better. I base this on many of his most recent reissues which have been just fantastic!

When taking a deep dive, the differences provided by the 1Step are not difficult to hear almost immediately. As you are emotionally grabbed by the quality of the music and performance, many instruments can be physically astonishing as they seem to explode out of a deep black background on certain tracks. There are multiple layers of inner detail and a significant amount of both micro and macro dynamics that I never realized was there before. 

Though there is also an amazing amount of lifelike attack and visceral excitement, the instruments actually sound more natural and fully fleshed out—kind of a rare combination by my experience. The spatial cues along with sound stage depth and width are slightly more revealing than any of the other pressings. Bottom line. IMPEX continues to truly deliver some of the best sounding vinyl in the industry!

Specific Tracks

Intended as a "companion" to Patricia Barber's earlier Modern Cool studio effort, these live recordings include some reinvented cuts from Modern Cool and Patricia's unique take on several pop standards. I won't go through each and every track, but there are two that seem to stand out for my taste and my ears. Both sound better than ever on this 1Step.

"The Beat Goes On" by Sony Bono begins the album like most of Barber's releases with a stunning bass line. Michael Arnopol on bass is presented here in all his glory. Finally unleashed with the inner detail and bottom end grunt that was always there on the tape, you can't help but sit up tall and listen into the music. It quickly has your attention, which was probably the main intent of the opening track, and it is totally successful here.

Patrica's vocals also seem to be more forward in the sound stage and much more clearly defined. I can now easily hear her verbal inflections and intonations. The words that come to mind when listening to her voice include seductive, smoky, and alluring. If her solo on the Hammond B3 organ was a first time effort, you have to be impressed. Her key strokes are now wonderfully revealed as the music hovers well above the musicians, and trails off beautifully on every note.

"Touch of Trash" is one of my all-time favorite Patricia Barber compositions. When describing the main character in question, Patricia uses the expression, "she's just a button short of trash," also one of my all-time favorite lyrics. Again we have a monster display of bass by Michael Arnopol. Front and center in the mix, his intro will now surely rattle the walls in your listening room.

However, it's the percussion by Eric Montzka and Ruben Alverez that really steal the show. Specific instruments are not listed in the credits, but I seem to hear some combination of drums, congas, cymbals, and maybe even mini-timbales. Regardless, along with Patricia's spiraling efforts on organ (with effects almost like a synthesizer), the music spins and swirls across the sound stage like a tornado building up steam. You might be tempted to turn around in your listening chair to see if a pair of rear speakers have been added as the music becomes almost all encompassing from every direction. The level of escalating excitement and detail is almost jaw dropping.

Final Thoughts

Yes, there is no question that this is an audiophile LP. Yes, it sounds fantastic. Yes, it will wow your friends and family and demonstrate how really great your system can be. However, after just one or two spins, you will quickly note that the music and the musicianship are simply outstanding. The original pressing and all the other reissues still have much to offer, but the IMPEX 1Step will take your enjoyment and satisfaction to an even higher level. Congrats to the entire IMPEX team! Highly recommended!

IMPEX Records


Elusive Disc