Barry Wallenstein

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One part Mose Allison cool, one part Allen Ginsberg beat, Barry Wallenstein is a veteran poet who marries words and jazz. He walks the music's city streets with a sharp ear for vernacular and an eye for strange and gritty images. Here he delivers his verse with the rhythmic verve and sensitivity of a master improviser. His accompanists respond in kind. Alto sax giant Arthur Blythe goes from lush romanticism to edgy abstraction, often at the drop of a poetic dime, while the versatile pianist John Hicks and other fine players key in to the nuances of Wallenstein's phrasing just as if he was singing his words. His stories are mainly of urban fringe dwellers -- queens, androgynes, junkies, 14-year-old girls who visit their 14-year-old boyfriends in jail. But Wallenstein doesn't ride the material for its shock value. He plays down the specifics of his street stories in favor of the universals, illuminating desire, loss, and the sad-but-beautiful follies of our lot with verse that's subtle and open. As rappers ham-handedly court jazzmen, and heavy-footed poetry slammers storm the podiums, Wallenstein suggests a genuinely poetic rebirth of cool.
-- Review by Will Hermes


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