Barry Wallenstein

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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