The most striking thing about experimental drum/bass/baritone sax trio Zu's latest record is the distinct lack of that particular instrumentation overall. However diverse and varied their previous work has been, it's dominated by dynamic percussion, pounding bass, and distorted sax. They're a band that's always made huge leaps between records, defined by their amorphous approach to genre. In perhaps their most surprising progression, they've swapped noisy free-form jazz-drone-metal freakouts for sprawling ambient mediational pieces. The trio also looks to the East this time for inspiration. The album's title takes its name from the Tibetan practice of sky burial, which involves a corpse being left on a mountain to decompose and be eaten by carrion birds or other carnivorous animals. Divesting themselves of a traditional track listing, Jhator is made up of two extended pieces: the first reflects the first corporeal stages of the sky burial, and the second the soul leaving the body. "A Sky Burial" opens with a resounding gong, followed by what at first sounds like distant bird song, but quickly reveals itself as more insect-like. This presumably signifies the onset of decomposition, and the buildup is suitably unnerving. Interestingly, there's probably never been so much space on a Zu record, and yet the sparse but powerful ambiance they create is oppressive. As the gong sounds again, calm is restored with shimmering cymbals. The track flows into a Vangelis-esque synth line that feels both modern and ancient. As the track draws to an end, Massimo Pupillo's plodding bass feels like a definitive conclusion to the physical phase of the Tibetan practice. "The Dawning Moon of the Mind" feels like a fresh start with clean and precise exotic strings that represent the soul traveling into the beyond. That freshness is soon disturbed by discordant electronics creating a disturbance in the force. Overall, the mix of synthesized sound and largely acoustic instrumentation evokes a not altogether comforting, cosmically elemental soundscape through throbbing electronics veiled in static and cymbal-heavy percussion. Luca T. Mai's sax seeps in like a foghorn calling out through the mist, leading to the record's most beautiful section featuring an abstract vocal that avoids sentimentality via its melancholy undertone. If only death were this romantic. But with or without the backstory this music is an eccentric and rewarding trip. Yet again, Zu have sidestepped genre expectations by creating their very own. Jhator is a deep curiosity -- strange, epic, and filled with Eastern cadences.
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