When director Christopher Nolan is asleep, the music that plays in his subconscious is probably not unlike Sean Jefferson’s Dreamworks. A drummer/composer from Rochester, New York, Jefferson is signed to Wycliffe Gordon’s label Bluesback Records. While performing with the Grammy-nominated Paradigm Shift, Jefferson decided to record a solo album, one in which his distinct and somewhat edgy vision could be fully unveiled. The result is a trippy, challenging, and yet somehow accessible record.
Opening with disorienting clanging, “Half Past Twilight” captures the surreal landscapes between sleeping and waking up. Jefferson’s drums are tribal in their savage march, reflecting the ominous allure of nightmares as well as the hypnotic transcendence of sweet dreams. A cover of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” builds mood and character as Richie Goods’ bass slowly creeps into the mix and Marcus Strickland’s sax soars into the subconscious.
Dreamworks can be viewed as a concept album, albeit one without words. Nearly all of the song titles reflect the references to sleeping and waking that are established by the record’s name. To achieve this, Jefferson and his group weave spells of instrumental complexities and soothing textures, often in the same tracks. For example, in “Living this Dream,” Strickland’s sax seduces the ear with its lush tones while Jefferson’s hearty drums and Goods’ deeply probing bass propel the groove to a more frenzied tempo. “Eternal Light” begins with a hushed prettiness conjured by Strickland’s sax, only to have that moment of tranquility disturbed by the kinetic energy brought upon by his fellow musicians.
“Awakening” is suitably titled. Crestfallen minor-key piano welcomes the waking mind, but Strickland’s peaceful soprano sax is threatened by Jefferson’s uneasy drumming, eventually turning the world in disarray, and leaving the premises with a chilly rattle. Jefferson paints a picture of the real world as one not too different from the extraterrestrial planes of the brain, where order exists within clouds of confusion.