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John Zorn - The Dreamers CD (album) cover


John Zorn



3.59 | 19 ratings

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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.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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