Citadels and Sanctuaries, the latest release from clarinetist and composer Jeremiah Cymerman, is a reflection on and tribute to the influence of 10 of Cymerman’s musical heroes. It is also, according to its liner notes, Cymerman’s “most accessible record to date,” which may come as surprise when reading the list of artists paid tribute here. Ranging from spectralist titan Horatiu Radulescu to preeminent free jazz practitioners like Evan Parker and Nate Wooley, the tracks’ dedications speak to a musical vocabulary that is diverse, yet chiefly rooted in the experimental. Yet the predominant mood of the record is one of introspection and emotion, with great weight placed on subtle turns of interpretation and electronic manipulation of the soundscape. A constantly shifting interplay is created between solo clarinet and electronic processing, which mirrors the larger aesthetic interplay between melodic immediacy and richly textured, aggressively abstract departures into dissonance and noise.
Most of the time, Cymerman uses the clarinet to create the melodic end of this spectrum, with the electronics supplying the harshness. But occasionally this formula is flipped, as on “With the Old Breed (for Nate Wooley),” where extremely grating processed clarinet noise is suspended amid a serene and harmonic electronic backdrop. At other times, the clarinet seems to disappear entirely into a field of resonant reverb, creating a feeling of ambient stasis. Such a texture is created on “Between Always and Forever (For Toru Takemitsu),” where the resonant key clicks of the clarinet take center stage as the instrument’s tone gradually fades away. Such ambient soundscapes are compelling because of the way some small, unnoticed detail (a microtonal rub between reverberating tones, a gritty textural flourish, the precise phrasing of an ornament) always seems to emerge, snapping the listener back to full awareness of the texture’s myriad component parts. “Manifesto (for Iancu Dumitrescu)” balances these worlds between ominous, industrial rumblings, evocative tones, and explosions of feedback unfolding in sequence and on top of one another.
The sum of these parts is a record that feels devotional, even monastic. Despite the variety of approaches taken to honor an equally variegated set of musical heroes, Cymerman’s sensibility as an improviser and organizer of sound is cohesive, manages to weave a common thread through the most sensitive and hair-raising moments alike.