Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

Kevin Whitehead

By Kevin Whitehead

on 09.12.11 in Reviews
Whirling worlds intersecting

Besides touring with Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, Colin Stetson does solo gigs at rock and jazz festivals, playing unaccompanied bass saxophone pieces with big-beat power, clear forms studded with catchy riffs and sequencer-like patterns, and an enormous sound befitting a giant horn. He pulls it off using a battery of techniques from jazz and improvised music, notably circular breathing (to keep blowing continuously, even while inhaling), multiphonics (singing one note, playing another), slap-tonguing, controlled squeals, and split-tones that teeter between pitches. He also exploits incidental sounds: the brushes-on-snare sniff of drawing air through the nose, the slap of keypads on metal. His execution is a marvel of coordination; Stetson makes ridiculously complex stuff sound like it plays itself. He records the horn in real time with multiple close and distant mikes, then manipulates the mix to spotlight specific effects. For all that, the music’s primal, suggesting ritual dances around a fire on the plains. “Three Blind Mice” lurks behind “A Dream of Water,” narrated by Laurie Anderson in late-night-storyteller mode. My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden sings Blind Willie Johnson’s “Lord I Just Can’t Keep from Crying” over a didgeridoo-y drone. Whirling worlds intersect. (Volume one’s a winner too.)