Release Date: Nov 9, 2012
Record label: Rune Grammofon
Genre(s): Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz, Free Improvisation
It might seem that a live improv encounter between the extraordinary Arcade Fire saxophonist Colin Stetson and Swedish free-sax wildman Mats Gustafsson would have audiences clinging to the fixtures to avoid being blown out of the doors – but this unplanned meeting at the 2011 Vancouver Jazz festival exhibits a raw but oddly affecting lyricism, and much of it is unexpectedly quiet. Both artists like low-end sounds (Gustafsson frequently plays a baritone and Stetson the gargantuan bass sax here), and though tunes in the regular sense are absent, the pair's vibrato-laden harmonies, split-note sounds, elephantine bellows, bird chirrups and stomping riffs often coalesce into song-like shapes. There are just four tracks, characterised by long, organ-like drones, jaunty melodies and percussive pad-flappings, flurries turning to free-jazz thrashes and resolving as gentle murmurs, and big, riff-like exchanges – punctuated by barks and circular-breathed, whirring patterns.
Recorded live at the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 2011, Stones is the debut collaboration between groundbreaking saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and Colin Stetson. Both men are well documented as soloists and collaborators. For Gustafsson (tenor and baritone horns here) the list includes his own bands the Thing and Fire!, as well as Sonic Youth, Boredoms, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, and Peter Brötzmann.
There are a number of good reasons why saxophone duos are rare. Saxophones, even in their incarnations as basses, are typically lead instruments. Skilled players already have a huge tonal range; couple it with Ayler-ian overblowing and other extended techniques and the saxophone emerges as an ideal wind instrument for the soloist. But more crucial to this scarcity is the position that the sax’s bright timbres occupy in a mix.
Colin Stetson and Mats Gustafsson are two of the most brave and inventive saxophonists working today, as evidenced by their solo work and their work with scads of other great artists. Stones documents a live improvisational performance—the first for the pair, from the 2011 Vancouver Jazz Festival. It’s a unmoored, chaotic set, sometimes beautiful in its aural onslaught.
The pairing of Colin Stetson and Mats Gustafsson is extremely compelling in theory, not only because of the relative scarcity of saxophone duos, but because the pair's opposing musical traits are potentially highly complementary. Stetson is known for building long musical structures steeped in minimalist repetition; Gustafsson for demolishing them with explosive free rhythms. But Stones, recorded live at the 2011 Vancouver Jazz Festival, feels like a missed opportunity to exploit the natural tension between Stetson's methodical nature and Gustafsson's chaotic one.