John Zorn: The Interpretation of Dreams

The Interpretation of Dreams

The Interpretation of Dreams ranks among John Zorn’s most mature amalgamations. Sporting three compositions from 2016, its program is a triangle within a triangle. Both “Naked Lunch” and “The Exterminating Angel” pair vibraphone virtuoso Sae Hashimoto’s navigations of a meticulously through-composed score with the ecstatic improvisations of bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The first piece, in both concept and execution, pays obvious homage to William Burroughs, whose disillusionment with control pulses here in near-cultish abandon. With characteristic smoothness, Zorn’s writing spins the genre wheel from contemporary classical flourishes to noir-ish inflections of a jazzier persuasion. Hashimoto elicits surreal precision, if not also precise surrealism, in her malletry. “The Exterminating Angel” increases magnification on Spanish auteur Luis Buñuel. This time the effect is even more multilayered and of greater contrast between movements, the second of which breathes with plangent immediacy. Like the many secrets hidden beneath the dinner table of its eponymous film, “The Exterminating Angel” hides as much as it reveals. The result grabs the listener by the scruff with breakneck synchronicity and finds a suitable vehicle amid Zorn’s attentive search for order in chaos.

Between these sits “Obscure Objects of Desire,” an obituary piece for Buñuel. Subtitled “a study in frustration,” it draws a needle and thread through sexual tensions within the director’s oeuvre and which in this context bear out as gradations of virility and impotence. Pianist Stephen Gosling performs alongside the ever-adventurous JACK Quartet, by turns dominant over and submissive to a textural litany of desires. Tensions culminate in a breathtaking passage played sul ponticello on the strings while the piano reveals its fantasy life with psychoanalytical panache. That such images find points of commonality at any given moment is an achievement in and of itself and indicative of a composer whose finest works are coming to light in the hands of trustworthy interpreters.

(This review originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

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