Colin Stetson has worked as a session musician with such luminaries as Arcade Fire, Tom Waits and Daivd Byrne, and he is in the current touring line-up of Bon Iver. However, it's one thing to be a talented musician and gain the respect from your peers; it's different when it comes to writing and recording your own music. Impressively, Stetson's solo material is well worth your attention.
When I first heard his album New History Warfare: Judges II earlier this year I was stunned to find that he had created such a wide spectrum of sound from acoustic instruments. In Colin's case it was mostly bass and alto saxophones. Now he has followed up that album with a new EP, Those Who Didn't Run, which consists of two 10-minute pieces, reflecting his interest in longer, more trance-like arrangements. The cover artwork shows a white rhino on a red background and the sounds within are as powerful and as striking as that image suggests.
Montreal-based Stetson utilised GY!BE's Efrim Menuck to record Judges, whilst this new release has been recorded by Arcade Fire associate Mark Lawson. Sonically, this EP carries on where Judges left off, using a handful of mic positions and no looping or overdubbing of any kind. Amazingly, all this music was recorded in a single take.
Those Who Didn't Run takes its title from one of the lyrics on the Laurie Anderson narrated piece on Judges - A Dream of Water, but it is a brand new piece of instrumental music. He plays looped phrases using circular breathing, and his fingers drive the rhythm as he plays the valves like a percussion instrument and creates garbled, abrasive vocal sounds through the reed.
Musically, you could just as equally compare this to the recent electronic soundscapes of Tim Hecker, as you could to the radical sax playing of Evan Parker, and at times it reminds me of Arthur Russell's legendary ‘The World of Echo’. It's important to remember that this is one man, one instrument, and one take.
On the second track, ‘The End of Your Suffering’, he plays alto saxophone. This piece has a strong pulse running throughout, and the overall feel hints at minimalism. Like the title track, strange melodies are weaved within his soundscape, and after a very raw mid-section the whole piece moves into a kind of chant. Again, this vocalization is done through the body of the instrument while a lot of other things are going on.
New History Warfare: Judges II has been rightly acclaimed as one of the albums of this year, and this EP both sits as a companion piece to it, but also shows a progression towards longer compositions. It manages to showcase Stetson as a masterful instrumentalist as well as someone who can create his own very powerful music.