Release Date: Oct 17, 2011
Record label: Constellation
Genre(s): Jazz, Pop/Rock
It’s been nearly 40 years since Roland Barthes first theorized what he called the “grain of the voice.” And whether or not you’re familiar with his famous essay, I think it’s fair to say that the idea, if not necessarily the vocabulary, has wormed its way well into the collective critical consciousness by this point. For Barthes, the “grain” was the “body in the voice as it sings.” Not, or not merely, timbre: the “grain” of a voice, if it has one, consists precisely in the irreducibility of its significance, its weight, to the conventions of technique, style, or genre. Simon Frith famously heard grain in Elvis.
When I first heard Colin Stetson's breakthrough LP-- a surprising thing for an experimental saxophonist to even have-- I pegged it to precursors such as Albert Ayler, John Zorn, and Ornette Coleman. The music was so animally energetic that it took me a while to realize how off-base this early impression had been. But while those free-jazz shamans embraced volatility, Stetson is much more aligned with minimalists like Philip Glass, which is to say that he restricts himself and knows exactly where he's going.
Earlier this year, Colin Stetson exploded from popular backup player (everyone from Tom Waits to LCD Soundsystem, David Byrne to Anthony Braxton) to everyone’s favorite bass saxophone solo artist, thanks to the absolutely amazing New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. There’s something of Albert Ayler’s expressive, expansive free jazz, but there’s something of minimalist pop construction on that record, too.
Many listeners whose ears don't normally perk up at the sounds of woodwind-based experimental music—i.e., free-jazz, improv and its contemporary variants—have been revved up this year thanks to Colin Stetson's New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges, released back in February by Constellation. While the contributions of saxophonists like Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Christine Sehnaoui, Ken Vandermark and Matana Roberts—all well-known artists in the experimental world—remain nobodies to many lovers of indie music, the Montreal-based bass saxophonist has been popping up all over the place.
I know as much as the next guy about circular breathing. So I go on YouTube and watch Kenny G give a lesson on it. “It only took about twenty years to kind of get it...OK”, he admits with a smile. So you breath while you play, I learn. The video lasts two minutes and has 565 likes and 106 ….