Colin Stetson is a horn player of uncommon strength, skill and genre-defying creativity. He composes and performs otherworldly songs that combine a mastery of circular breathing technique with percussive valve-work and reed vocalisations, making a polyphonic solo music that combines influences as diverse as Bach, early metal, American pre-war Gospel, and the explorations of Jimi Hendrix, Peter Brotzman and Albert Ayler. Colin has been making his mark as a staggering solo performer for several years now, in front of audiences small and large, from intimate jazz and experimental music venues to big stages, whether opening for Arcade Fire or The National, or playing at jazz and new music festivals like Moers and London Jazz. His talents have been widely recognised and employed by artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson, TV On The Radio and Bon Iver; he also plays in Bell Orchestre and Sway Machinery.
Stetson's live solo performances are absolutely stunning and uncategorisable and he conveys a commensurate intensity and iconoclasm on this new studio album of original material. New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is Stetson's second solo record and his first for Constellation.
Stetson is able to weave an uninterrupted flow of arpeggiated swirls and chordal progressions while simultaneously singing yearning melodic lines through the reed of his horn – a technically powerful combination, exponentially intensified by Colin's innate sense of pace, phrasing and trajectory. Stetson approaches his solo work with one foot firmly rooted in a pop sensibility, harmonically and in terms of overall song structure – a sensibility on fine display in longer pieces like "Judges", "The Stars In His Head (Dark Lights Remix)" , "Clothed In The Skin Of The Dead" and "Fear Of The Unknown And The Blazing Sun". He can paint short, ecstatic spirals of rapid-fire ostinati that move through the entire range of the instrument, full of subtle rhythmic shifts and filigree, as with "The Righteous Wrath Of An Honourable Man", "From No Part Of Me Could I Summon A Voice" and "A Dream Of Water", all of which clock in at the 2-3 minute range (and the last of which features a spoken word vocal by Laurie Anderson). Colin can also shred, especially when rallying the full force of the bass saxophone, whether in the foghorn blasts that open the album or the gasping syncopated pulse of "Red Horse (Judges II)". The seamless, steamy, multi-timbral drone that underpins Shara Worden's guest vocal on "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes" demonstrates another side of Colin's mastery and sensibility.
The music on New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges was captured entirely live in single takes at Montréal's Hotel2Tango studio, with no overdubs or looping, using over 20 mics positioned close and far throughout the live room. Guest vocals by Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) are the only exceptions to this rule, along with one brief french horn that was multi-tracked.
The Judges sessions were co-produced by Stetson and Shahzad Ismaily and engineered by Efrim Menuck at the Hotel2Tango, then taken to Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik and mixed by Ben Frost, the critically acclaimed experimental electronic/ambient composer and producer whose shared influences of minimalism, noise and black metal made him the perfect choice for a bold and unconventional approach to the raw material. Frost pushes and pans different mic signals to the fore from song to song (and within songs), eliciting a cornucopia of details and extremes in Colin's playing and highlighting the complexity of sounds generated by a single horn in Stetson's hands. Rhythms are formed by clicking keys, minute textures are brought forward by running ambient mics extremely hot, and low end is at times pushed fully into the red to devastating effect. Mastering by Mell Dettmer provides the final touch.
The result is a highly original, experimental, euphoric record that fires on all levels: a document of an astoundingly strong and gifted player; a compositional tour-de-force; and a studio production bursting with intensity and inventiveness.
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges reviews...
"It is the most exciting and devastating record that I have heard in seasons; it is a roaring, terrible sadness. Twenty microphones, planted like roses around a room - capturing the ripple of notes, the wails of resonance, the violent clack of fingers on keys and the shriek of Stetson's own voice, sounding through the horn; like Stetson has two hearts, four lungs, can sing two different sorrows at once. Judges sounds like nothing else. It is like being struck by a comet. It is only January but there is an album of the year."
- Said The Gramophone
"First question, how does he do this? Recorded without loops or overdubs...all of his orchestration was captured in the studio, using 20 microphones. The effect is one that mimics a small band or overdubbed tour de force. With this second volume he has enlarged and strengthened his palate. It is pure revelation."
- All About Jazz
"Colin Stetson is one of our greatest living saxophone players. Maybe more than anyone, he is taking the instrument to NEW places, with NEW technique. Moreover, he takes an acoustic instrument and prepares it with multiple microphones and contact mics, making it a draining, rewarding, physical and visceral expierience. It is fucking impossible, what you are hearing on this record. There are so many, CRUSHINGLY beautiful sounds coming out of one person, at ONCE, that it makes your skin tremble, your mind go blank, and your eyes close."
- Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)
"To get a sense of the saxophonist's self-sufficiency, think of him as a nonsinging singer-songwriter. His command of circular breathing and multiphonics will prick up the ears of any experimental-improv buff, but Stetson's real coup is the alchemical way he channels these raw materials into fully outfitted tunes--the kind that loop in your head involuntarily."
- Time Out New York
"Musically magnificent and lush. Colin is doing something so special, so inspired, it will take people some time to catch up to his sound and genius. Picture early Pink Floyd connecting with the whirling powers of the pioneering free jazz masters. You are left with with a thunderous, rapturous sound that is both delicate and probing. One listen to this album inevitably leads to infinite plays. It gets inside you and rips apart the senses...a must have."
- Loud Vine