Apr 30 2013
There is something undeniably courageous about an artist following a creative vision that isn’t likely, for all intents and purposes, to achieve any kind of mass commercial appeal. The act of an artist simply throwing themselves into a project and all other considerations be damned is something not to be esteemed lightly. And, often, it leads to some terribly engaging art.
That’s what’s happening here with Colin Stetson and his new release To See More Light. The third and final volume in his New History Warfare trilogy expands Stetson’s solo saxophone explorations to dramatic effect. With just his saxes, a strategic use of microphones, and no over-dubbing or loops, Stetson’s polyphonic attack conjures up the illusion that it’s not just him and his instruments alone in a room playing his heart out.
And that’s what he does. It’s easy to imagine a Colin Stetson-shaped hole in a wall by the way he throws himself headlong into this music. Stetson’s performance is unapologetic for its ferociousness. To See More Light is a sonic bestiary of monstrous tunes. But everything has a vulnerable side, and each icy blast of saxophone intensity carries with it a delicate fear of shattering into a thousand tiny shards. It’s a display of the music’s soul.
Enhancing the delicate nature of this ferocious music is the contribution of Bon Iver vocalist Justin Vernon, who provides a stunning accompaniment on the opening track “And In Truth” and, later, on the jaded “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?” Vernon also adds harmonization on a few other tracks, and the way his sunny vocalizations mesh with the winter frost of Stetson’s saxophones lines is the kind of contrasting elements that loft an album’s brilliance up a plateau.
Balancing the velvet fuzz of vocals is the rhythmic endgame that results from Stetson’s attack strategy on sax. The combination of breathing technique and microphone placement creates a pulsing tempo that perfectly counterbalances those soaring moments when Stetson just erupts with one long slow note after the other.
Stetson’s New History Warfare trilogy is a remarkable accomplishment, and the finale To See More Light caps it off with all the wild abandon and unabashed creativity with which it began.
Your album personnel: Colin Stetson (alto, tenor, & bass saxophones), and guest: Justin Vernon (vocals).
Released on the Constellation Records label.
Cool cover art & design by Tracy Maurice.
Also, you can check out my review of the second volume of Stetson’s New History Warfare trilogy, titled Judges, HERE, on this site. I still find the album no less startling or enjoyable than when I first discovered it. As always, with the review comes embedded audio, links to artist and retail sites, and whatever else seemed important at the time.