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.)

Winged Serpents: Six Encomiums for Cecil Taylor

Winged Serpents

If the music of Cecil Taylor was a continent, this album is a chain of islands. Divided in magnitude yet sharing the same creative waters, each of its pianists offers one of six eulogies in praise of an artist who knew no bounds and whose powerful life is held in the balance of interpretation.

Craig Taborn’s “Genuflect” plays out a dialogue between the ethereal and the earthly. His feel for texture is savory enough to be edible and recalls the soul-filling starches that were staples of the Taylor diet. This catharsis sits comfortably next to Sylvie Courvoisier, who brings her knowledge of the piano’s interior to bear on “Quauhnahuac” as a linguist would phonemes: that is, creating meaning out of elements that in and of themselves have none. Her anatomical precision elicits solace and strength in equal measure. The humbly titled “Minor Magus” finds Brian Marsella scraping away the dirt of grief in handfuls. It’s an unrelenting piece that speaks of a biography struggling to catch up with its departed subject.

“Grass and Trees on the Other Side of the Tracks” is Kris Davis’ song of spontaneity. By turns prayerful and spasmodic, it struggles to breathe of its own accord, like a pair of lungs fighting the influence of a respirator. Aruán Ortiz’s “Unveiling Urban Pointillism” may just be the body housing said lungs, pulling away from a dream so adhesive that one begins to question the value of waking at all. Anthony Coleman swings from the rafters of a written score (the album’s only). Its title, “April 5th, 2018,” dates Taylor’s death, veering into improvised corners of renovation. The most somber of the set, it is also the most traditional, sprinkling fragments of ragtime, swing, and pop into its brewing vessel. A fitting end to one whose posthumous legacy is just beginning.

(This review, in its original form, appeared in the December 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)