Review: Jeremiah Cymerman – Sky Burial

The collaborative improvisation here is far from conversational. This is a seething, animalistic fight to the death, with saxophone, clarinet and trumpet rendered hoarse and broken by the spite of their attack. High pitched notes convulse and pant down one another’s necks, sharp blasts of breath send projectile growls back and forth, while sudden unified bursts of squealing, whimpering tones suggest that all four players may have just been scorched alive in a gigantic incinerator.

But it’s the post-production that pushes Sky Burial off the edge. While the players work to contort their instruments through bodily interaction – hammering on the ceiling of human endurance and capability – Cymerman’s studio processes tug the album beyond the limits of flesh and into the immensity of the abstract. Instrument timbres are smudged into strange shades by subtle applications of distortion or exaggerated frequency emphasis (resulting in some thunderous clunks of low end and intrusive breath sounds), while the more drastic transformations thrust open trapdoors into which entire soundscapes plummet all at once. Take the end of the title track, which seems to splinter under the collective ferocity of its players; occasional stammers of digital glitch intensify into a stuck loop of escalating volume, which eventually erupts in a devastating sub-bass black hole. Once again, we hear the results of a Plotkin mastering job that taps into visceral low frequencies that would turn to rumbling mush in lesser hands.

One of the most notable aspects of the album is its deliberate retainment of its core organic energy. Even during the most explosive points of collapse, during which fuzz and reverb dance in swirls of tornado panning, the sounds of woodwind and trumpet are still very much audible. Cymerman carefully reshapes rather than rendering sounds malformed beyond recognition; as such, the virtuosic abilities of Sky Burial’s key players are always very much on show. The album is an amplification of what’s already there – a primal exhibition of musical energy, propelled and exploded into the surreal by a very creative and twisted retrospective eye.