Friday, February 18, 2011
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
RIYL = Nat Baldwin, Peter Kolovos, Steve Reich
People are going to try to tell you that Colin Stetson, whose newest album, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (sequel to 2008’s Volume 1), is quintessentially a solo saxophone record created without looping or overdubs of any kind (save a short track with multiple French horns), accomplishes what he does by means of circular breathing. This isn’t true. Colin Stetson has pockets of cheeks within his cheeks: small flaps of skin of various sizes that can individually maintain reserves of air in service of a kaleidoscopic manipulation of tones. Add to this his dual trachea (falling down the throat in a helix spiral) and 6 lungs (2 original, 2 from a horse, thoroughbred, 1 from a goat, 1 from a whale (Said the Grammaphone was close, but wrong, counting only 4)) and the saxophoning on Judges becomes more plausible.
It’s funny to me that more than a decade ago, if you would’ve asked me my opinion about the saxophone, I would have proclaimed it the very lowest point in the history of musical invention. Personally, I found it hard to shake the damage musicians like Kenny G and Bill Clinton projected onto the instrument. I don’t know exactly what turned me, but Erin can testify, in the past couple of years I have become increasingly excited about the saxophone and how it’s scraped its way into more and more albums that I love. It’s kind of funny actually. Here I am, it’s 2011, and not only am I listening to a solo saxophone album, but since I’ve started to really digest Stetson’s playing on Judges, I feel I can honestly say that, at least for now, the saxophone is my favourite instrument. Junior high me would probably punch 2011 me in the face. 2011 me would laugh at how weak junior high me was and then tell junior high me that this dreaded saxophone album was put out on Constellation Records; you know, the record label with that new band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
So, about the album: Stetson, with his cheeks within checks, double trachea and multiple lungs, is plenty adept at managing an orchestra of sounds. Though, honestly, I had to listen to some of the tracks on Judges (the title track streaming below is a perfect example) 4 or 5 times before I could start to believe that Stetson had really managed all that he had with only a saxophone. Then I had to listen to it 4 or 5 more times before I could accept that he was playing this stuff without overdubs or looping of any kind (still having trouble with that one – seems like he’d need another couple of lungs to pull it all off). All in all, it’s an exhilarating experience listening to Stetson play. Add to that the bonus of Laurie Anderson’s pitch-perfect spoken word segments and the additional vocal work from Shara Worden and you have something very, very special.
I know I’m prone to hyperbole. What can I say? I love what I love. But Stetson’s work here on New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is simply in another league. Like this type of league. I can see Erin rolling her eyes about this right now, can see experimental fence-sitters all over the internet ho-humming about this, but trust me, it’s worth it. For all its ingenuity and instrumental proficiency – its genius – it’s a surprisingly accessible work. This is something that stands to be performed in orchestral concert halls, with weighty diamond chandeliers, gilded banisters and red plush seating as much as it does in dank back alley garages. A landmark album. Absolutely thrilling music on every level.
COLIN STETSON - Judges (preview) by Constellation Records