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The Poetic Barber 

A mixed bag of new jazz CDs

Patricia Barber
Premonition/Blue Note

Poetry and jazz gracefully mingle in this aptly titled outing from singer/pianist Barber, her first disc consisting completely of original material. Like Abbey Lincoln and Cassandra Wilson, Barber takes cues from tradition (her use of silence and timing evokes Miles Davis) while writing and singing her own poetic lyrics, with strikingly original and engaging results. Her singing is soft and precisely voiced, each syllable a musical and lyrical statement. Barber is a master of meter, rhyme, allusion and allegory, all balanced with wit and wisdom. Musically, her compositions move on succinct rhythmic lines, with her piano, Neal Alger's guitar and Dave Douglas' trumpet adding subtle touches and embellishments. Her craftwork is flawless and her originality is totally refreshing.

George Coleman, Mike Stern, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb
Four Generations Of Miles

This disc captures a concert of Miles Davis alumni playing tunes from Miles' catalogue. Historically, this band's credentials are superb: Cobb was the drummer on Kind of Blue, Carter the bassist for the mid-60s Davis quintet, Coleman the explosive tenor saxophonist on Four and More and My Funny Valentine, and Mike Stern one of the guitarists in Miles' 80s bands. While expressive solos abound (especially from the under appreciated Coleman), the band never seems to gel as a unit -- a fate that often happens in such star-studded jam sessions. The result is an uneven collaboration that's little more than a collection of solos without a cohesive center.

Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker
American Dreams

Bassist Haden and saxophonist Brecker present a largely contemplative, laid-back American songbook of works by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Don Sebesky, a few originals, and a version of "America the Beautiful." Pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Brian Blade round out this exceptional quartet -- and then there's the strings. Uncharacteristically, Haden allows arranger Alan Broadbent and others a heavy hand with the strings on most of the 13 selections, ruining the quartet's subtle delicacy with overwrought, often cloying string arrangements, particularly on "America the Beautiful." It's only when the strings are absent, as on Ornette Coleman's boppish "Bird Food" (the only up-tempo number on the disc), Jarrett's "Prism" and Mehldau's "Ron's Place," that this recording lives up to its potential.

Charles Lloyd
Lift Every Voice

Memphis-born saxophonist flutist Lloyd's diverse career includes extensive gigs with bluesman B.B. King and bop-influenced soul-jazz with Cannonball Adderley. He also dabbled in the avant-garde before retreating to a monastery to meditate. You'll hear all these elements on this recording, a numinous outing that exponentially enhances Lloyd's growing reputation as a spiritual heir to John Coltrane. Using jazz as a platform for religious expression, Lloyd fills these two discs with original compositions and arrangements of spirituals like "Amazing Grace," pop standards like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and jazz classics such as Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count." While contemplative and meditative, this is no New Age disc. Rather, it simmers with instrumental virtuosity in service of Lloyd's musical vision, brought to life by guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Geri Allen, drummer Billy Hart and bassists Marc Johnson and Larry Grenadier. Perhaps the centerpiece is Lloyd's arrangement of the spiritual "Go Down Moses," where he evokes John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" in the introduction, before making it his own expressive statement. A brilliant, contemplative work.

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