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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jeremiah Cymerman - Decay of the Angel (5049 Records, 2018) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

If you've listened to the other albums by clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman, you know that he has an approach that is uniquely his own, a kind of passionate and relentless search for meaningful sound, or sound creation in the broadest sense. His instrument, often electronically supported, is only a tool to achieve this, and paradoxically, by doing so, he also changes the possibilities of his instrument. But the sound remains the first objective, and in line with his previous albums, one that is deeply dark and pessimistic in tone, as if made to accompany the ultimate annihilation of life.

It's his first solo album in many years, and one to cherish. Describing the music is almost impossible, but it is obstinate, headstrong, very linear in its flow, with minor shifts in color and multiphonics creating a strange palette of moving darkness out of which eery solo sounds full of despair and desolation emerge.

Like his previous albums - "Sheen", "Pale Horse", "Badlands", "Sky Burial", "World of Objects" - Cymerman integrates musical subgenres, from modern classical over ambient, improvisation, metal to noise, to create his own unique and coherent vision, purifying his approach over the years, polishing it, refining it, not in the sense of cleaning it up, but rather to make it more impactful, precise, more touching, more gripping.

The inspiration for the album's pieces come from literature with a major "L". The title of the album refers to the novel by Japanese author Yukio Mishima, and the last but one track "The Body Becomes Fetid" refers to one of the characteristics of a decaying angel, as described in the same book. The second track, "With ten thousand shields and spears" refers to a poem by William Blake, printed here below. "The Canto of Ulysses" refers to a chapter in the book "If This Is A Man", by Italian holocaust survivor and author Primo Levi, who also committed suicide in the late 80s. In the chapter, the main character tries to remember a passage from Dante's Inferno.

Amazinly enough, the last track "Out of Many Waters" (possibly referring to the novel by Jacqueline Greene about a 12-year old girl who escapes slavery in Brasil to be among the first jewish settlers in America), is for pure acoustic solo clarinet, resonating in empty space, with long circular breathing passages, sounding different, offering a glimmer of hope coming out of the darkness. A beautiful piece to end an album with an incredibly strong artistic vision.

The Angel

I dreamt a dream! What can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe was ne’er beguiled!

And I wept both night and day,
And he wiped my tears away;
And I wept both day and night,
And hid from him my heart’s delight.

So he took his wings, and fled;
Then the morn blushed rosy red.
I dried my tears, and armed my fears
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was armed, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head.