It was around this time only last year that Colin Stetson released his extraordinary reworking of Henryk Góreck's Symphony No. 3. That work was a huge undertaking, drawing as it did from a well-loved classical piece and the demands of working with a large number of different musicians. Roll forward just over 12 months, and Stetson is now set to release All This I Do for Glory, a very different, if no less impressive, project.
All This I Do For Glory, the fifth album Colin Stetson has released under his own name, is something of a reset for the one-of-a-kind performer. This is the first entirely solo album since the first volume of his New History of Warfare trilogy; you won't find any guest voices like Laurie Anderson or Justin Vernon on this one - nor does he bring on board a partner like on 2015's Never Were The Way She Was collaborative album with violinist Sarah Neufeld. And, in listening to All This I Do For Glory, something that we probably already knew becomes all the more obvious: Colin Stetson doesn't really need anyone else to play with him to make a full, dense and intricate sound.
Colin Stetson is a skilled multi-instrumentalist and composer, whose primary focus is the saxophone. He has lent his lungs to a number of different artists over the years including Tom Waits, Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, but it is his solo material for which he deserves the greatest recognition. Preferring to mic his instruments so his recordings and performances retain the clunk-and-clack of manipulated brass, he is able to provide his own percussion while creating an awe-inspiring plethora of sounds.
Saxophonist/clarinetist/composer/sound explorer Colin Stetson returns to solo work on All This I Do for Glory, picking up four years after New History Warfare, Vol. 3. This set bears all the hallmarks of Stetson's artistic singularity -- athletic circular breathing, polytonal and harmonic exploration, focused composition, vocalizing from the horn -- all recorded live in-studio without overdubs or loops.
The music of experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson gives you an unusually heightened awareness that you are hearing a human body laboring to produce sound. That is human breath passing its way through a metal tube, yup; those are fingers clacking on different keys to manipulate tone and pitch. This hyper-awareness can feel like a distraction: If you've ever been deeply stoned in mixed company, focusing more on the moving mouth of your interlocutor than the emerging words, Stetson's music might summon an uncomfortable déjà vu .
The first thing you notice when you watch Colin Stetson perform with a bass saxophone is the size of the thing. Unwieldy is not the word for it. Massive is closer, and it has a sound to match. But the sheer fact of its size cannot prepare you for that sound. I first witnessed the spectacle in a ….
A few years ago a video did the rounds online - a single camera wandered through a house following a deep, thudding, percussive sound, one that was hard to attribute to any instrument, or indeed, living thing. It eventually came into a room, where a brawny, built, hipster-looking dude was blowing furiously into a bass saxophone, rocking back and forth like a man possessed. As an introduction to Colin Stetson, it wasn't a bad one.
To be a one-man band, you once needed a harp rack at your mouth, a bass drum on your back, cymbals between your knees, tambourines on your sleeves, and the willingness to appear a little mad. Now, if you're Colin Stetson, all you need is a big old sax that's mic’d up like a Stasi break room, a raft of extended techniques to command, the endurance to breathe life into your hypnotic mosaics for long periods, and the willingness to appear a little mad. (Actually, all you need is a computer, but we'll come back to that.