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John Zorn


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4 stars Rating: B

As most artists these days content themselves to a release every two years or so (maybe annually if they're efficient), John Zorn continues to prove himself the most efficient of them all, releasing upwards of three albums each year. After one great one earlier in the year (FIlmworks XIX), John Zorn has returned with The Dreamers, an album destined to be a highlight of 2008. It's similar to his popular album The Gift, only where The Gift often sagged and felt stale, The Dreamers is always fresh and never dull. It never gets loud and noisy like Zorn's most famous works, but it doesn't need to. The Dreamers is a release built for lying in the sun with a good pair of headphones and for driving. It's engaging enough that it serves well as foreground music, but it's light and breezy enough that it works equally well as background music.

Like The Gift (and most Zorn albums to be honest), The Dreamers is a mish-mash of styles. Once again like The Gift, the predominant styles are jazz, surf, and soundtrack, with some ethnic percussion and hints of avant-garde (such as on "Anulikwutsayl") that help spice it up. Its rich textures wash over the listener, creating a multilayered atmosphere that engulfs the listener. It takes a few listens to reveal all its secrets, but once it does, it shows why it is one of Zorn's most well-realized projects. The variety on the album is another strong suit, ranging from the jazz of "Toys" to the more avant-garde "Anulikwutsayl", on which dissonant, almost freeform sections are held together by the reptition of a single motif. Of course, all of this only deals with the excellent composition, which is only half the story.

The other half, of course, is the musicianship. John Zorn has never settled for less than the very best for his albums, and this is still the case here. Jamie Saft on keyboards, Marc Ribot on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone, Cyro Baptista on percussion, and Joey Baron on drums are all extraordinarily proficient on their instruments. More importantly, however, they work well as a team. Baron, Dunn, and Saft were all featured on Zorn's landmark Six Litanies for Heliogabalus, among numerous other Zorn albums on which they've played. Marc Ribot is also a longtime Zorn collaborator, and he has constantly proven himself worthy of carrying Zorn's compositions. I'm less familiar with the other two, but based on their performance on The Dreamers, they show an incredible ability to bring out the energy and emotion of the compositions.

In both aspects of the CD, composition and musicianship, Zorn reveals his unbelievable attention to detail. This is nothing new for Zorn - one need only listen to Madness, Love, and Mysticism to recognize his love of detail - but it is readily apparent on the Dreamers. As such, it should come as no surprise that, not only is the music rigorously composed and the performers thoughtfully chosen, but the packaging is superb as well. Not only is the cover art beautiful (especially in the mini-LP) format, but it comes with a set of free stickers (I, for one, greatly appreciate these stickers). It's a small gesture, but it's yet another piece of evidence that proves that Zorn cares about his listeners. Throughout his long career, which has seen the release of over one hundred CDs, John Zorn has produced highlight after highlight. With The Dreamers, he has given the world yet another highlight, and not only is this one among his very best, but it's also the perfect starting place for those looking to discover this fabulous musician.

Report this review (#165374)
Posted Sunday, March 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars 2.5 stars.

At first listen, this one seems fairly similar to Zorn's seminal album O'o, but after a few more this one pales a bit in comparison. It becomes evident that the only reason one could compare the two is because of the ever-present vibraphones throughout. The addition of some country-sounding guitar is a definite difference from the jazzier O'o, but not in a positive way (to my ears anyway). Perhaps the music is a bit more diverse than some of John Zorn's other albums, but none of the tracks really stand out as exceptionally interesting or superb. Of course, everything is flawlessly executed with top-notch musicianship, but in terms of composition, this is simply incapable of standing alongside, really, much of Zorn's discography at all. The only real reason to bother acquiring this album is if you want more Zorn than you can otherwise find, or if for some reason the sound of this album is exactly what you happen to be seeking.

Report this review (#285530)
Posted Monday, June 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Approaching the fifth port-of-call on my weeklong odyssey across the vast and (to me, at least) uncharted ocean of John Zorn's musical catalogue, I've suddenly crossed into more temperate latitudes. It's hard to believe this easygoing 2008 album was released only 14-months after the avant-metal sado-masochism of his "Six Litanies for Heliogabalus". Maybe that earlier project succeeded in purging all the venom out of Zorn's blood, leaving nothing behind except a colorful residue of jazzy surf music, like something a party of beatniks would play at a seaside bonfire on a warm summer evening.

The gently reverberating guitar of Marc Ribot is the spotlight instrument here, alongside Kenny Wollesen's snappy vibraphones. And while I hate to lean on the crutch of easy comparison (always the emptiest freight car in a critic's train of thought), it's worth noting a similarity to the genre-busting Brooklyn nu-jazz of Medeski Martin & Wood. The connection isn't a coincidence, either. Ribot has played on several MMW albums, and John Medeski was a guest at a few John Zorn sessions.

The album itself was designed to put a smile on your face. I'm not the only listener to hear a resemblance to Vince Guaraldi's iconic "Peanuts" theme music, particularly in the opening tracks. Just try to hear "A Ride on Cottonfair" without imagining Charlie Brown wearing a trim goatee on his chin and a beret atop his prematurely bald head.

After that the music becomes a little more explorative, but without sacrificing the carefree air of Roots Rock innocence. The unpronounceable "Anulikwutsayl" is a neon-lit fantasia of mystery and menace; the former audible in Jamie Saft's eerie after-hours Farfisa organ; and the latter in Ribot's increasingly agitated electric guitar, all played over a slow, repetitive bass guitar ostinato recalling one of Miles Davis' post- "Bitches Brew" experiments. "Mystic Circles" is another hypnotic collage of heartbeat grooves and exotic percussion accents. And the closing track "Raksasa" was named for a malevolent Hindu deity, depicted in what must have been one of his more upbeat moods.

The album (later the band itself) was well-named, as a collection of lucid dreams recalled in almost perfect clarity. The music of John Zorn, as even a newcomer like me will quickly learn, can sometimes be unfathomable...but not this time. And from here onward along my improvised journey through his bottomless discography, the forecast is much the same: sunny, but cool.

Report this review (#1465057)
Posted Saturday, September 19, 2015 | Review Permalink

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