Though it received far less public notice upon its release, Variations in Dreamtime is in many respects a companion album to Anthony Davis' highly regarded Episteme and, in fact, is just as superb. The two lengthy pieces on this recording encapsulate many of his exciting compositional ideas from the early '80s: highly complex, contrapuntal melodic lines; propulsive rhythms in unusual and often overlapping time signatures, a number of which derived from Balinese music; and inspired improvisation from a first-class ensemble, here including the great trombonist George Lewis and the underappreciated clarinet master J.D. Parran. The compositions percolate, roil, and swing, branching out into unexpected territories but always feeling of a piece. There is a near Romantic sense of melodic exploration and, indeed, several themes that Davis would often return to in the next decade are heard here, especially the heartbreakingly lovely melody which became known as "A Walk in the Valley." This record captures Davis on the enticing cusp between avant-garde jazz and the increasingly "classical" direction his music would take in ensuing years. Difficult to find, Variations in Dreamtime represents Anthony Davis at the pinnacle of his powers and is very highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick