Colin Stetson plays a variety of woodwinds. On his recently released New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, he plays a solo saxophone, recording his tracks live in a single (and usually, first) take, accompanied sometimes by the guest appearances of Laurie Anderson and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden. The latter delivers a vocal performance of a lifetime in her cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes”, dripping with soul and affection, enveloped by Stetson’s signature unceasing mourn.
But the focal point of Judges has to be Stetson’s delivery, captured in its immediacy and spontaneity with an array of mics positioned throughout the studio room, clustered around the air of the horn, inside the instrument, and even on his throat. The sensitive recording arrangement, though, is merely a platform – and a highly refined one at that – to capture the musical breadth and emotional depth of Stetson’s playing, which reminds me of the playful free-spiritedness of Ornette Coleman and the woe-stained expressionism of Charles Mingus.
In “The Stars in His Head”, Stetson’s saxophone forms a pulsating, circular structure upon which he builds throughout the track, developing a quick-stepping percussion and a varying dialogue between the wordless cries of his throat and the increasingly frantic reactions of the horn. It’s amazing how one man practically manages such a seemingly impossible task, but what proves to be even more stunning is Stetson’s foresight in envisioning and delivering a work as beautifully complex as this. – Dan.
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is out now on Constellation.