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American Dreams is an addition to Verve Records' collection of ..."with Strings" sessions pioneered by legedary producer Norman Granz. Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Harry Carney and others gave this genre a shot for Verve. Something about the grit of the sax sound in front of the orchestral string washes that jazz fans seem to either love or hate.
The strongest impression several listenings of of American Dreams leaves is: What a great quartet. "Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker" the label proclaims, but it could just as well say The New Charlie Haden Quartet. Pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Brian Blade round out the core quartet, and the unit achieves a rare level of cohesion. Maybe it's the bassman, Charlie Haden; a truly great bassist brings everyone up a notch or two. He did it on bluesman James Cotton's '96 CD, "Deep in the Blues"; he does it with his own Quartet West.
Mehldau benefits the most here. His conversations with Brecker's sax are intimate and precise, his soloing inventive and restrained; and his "Ron's Place," done with just the quartet, is a pensive gem.
Songs by Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Haden's old running mate Ornette Coleman, an unexpectedly beautiful take on the unlikely "America the Beautiful," deft string arrangements, a few quartet takes to break the pacing up and keep it interesting
An essential CD for fans of the Verve ..with Strings genre.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.