Michael Brecker / Charlie Haden

American Dreams

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This overly long quartet-plus-strings session is Charlie Haden's paean to an ideal America, made during a time that was ripe for such reflections. The band, with Haden on bass, Michael Brecker on tenor, Brad Mehldau on piano, and Brian Blade on drums, is unassailably strong. But listeners could have lived without the ear-candy sheen provided by the 34-piece orchestra, arranged primarily by Alan Broadbent, with additional contributions from Jeremy Lubbock and Vince Mendoza. (Broadbent and Mendoza also penned charts for Jane Monheit's In the Sun, released two weeks earlier.) Aside from outright banalities like "America the Beautiful" and "It Might Be You" (yes, the Stephen Bishop lite-radio hit), there are some saving graces, like Keith Jarrett's "Prism" and "No Lonely Nights," Mehldau's "Ron's Place," and Haden's two originals, "American Dreams" and "Nightfall." But Pat Metheny's "Travels" goes soggy without its Midwestern guitar twang, and Ornette Coleman's "Bird Food," one of only three tracks not to feature the orchestra, is so wildly out of place that its impact is somehow diminished -- notwithstanding a vivid pedal-point interlude about six minutes in.

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