Ann Arbor Weather:
Monday October 18, 2021
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Colin Stetson

Saxophonist Colin Stetson

A force of nature

by Piotr Michalowski

From the January, 2014 issue

Saxophonist Colin Stetson was raised in Ann Arbor and trained at the U-M. Although his university studies and broad range of performance experience have exposed him to music of every sort, from classical to jazz, Stetson's aesthetic sensibilities are firmly set in his eclectic youth, when he listened to everything from Jimi Hendrix to Bach. After graduation he moved around, finding unorthodox contexts for the saxophone, working with Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and others, eventually developing a unique solo recital career, focusing his energies on the bass saxophone.

The bass saxophone may seem like a strange choice for solo recitals, but its broad dimensions and exuberant sonic possibilities are perfectly matched to the vigorous physicality of Stetson's approach to music. He is hardly the first to use the instrument in improvised music; Anthony Braxton, Vinny Golia, and Joseph Jarman, among others, have explored its deep resonances in solo and ensemble contexts. Indeed, anyone who heard the Art Ensemble of Chicago in its prime will remember the imposing view of the two bass saxophones standing sentry at the front. But no one, it would seem, has made the bass sax the principal focus of a solo career.

In many ways Stetson's melodic and riff-based compositional and improvisational approach seems more suited to the guitar or to some computer-generated program than to traditional solo saxophone playing. But by applying techniques developed for new classical music and for free jazz improvisation, he's learned how to create sonic landscapes that seem to emanate from more than one instrument. Circular breathing--taking in air through his nose while blowing into the instrument through his mouth--allows him to create endless loops and avoid normal phrasing. His use of multi-phonics--playing multiple notes simultaneously--creates orchestral palettes, and the judicious application of the tongue to the reed and mouthpiece as well as hitting the keys of the big horn can generate pops and clicks that provide percussive effects.

Listening to Stetson immediately reveals his instrumental debt to

...continued below...

earlier visionaries who expanded the sonic palette of the saxophone and developed new solo languages, to Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker, Gianni Gebbia, Mats Gustafsson, and others. His compositional vision is much more melodic, however, and references very different musical vistas, including rock, folk songs, the creations of Laurie Anderson, and the seemingly incongruous drones, loops, and repetitions of classical minimalists. Stetson's rigorous training enables him to absorb these influences and their attendant instrumental techniques and to make them his own. Often lyrical, his music is saved from sentimentality by a rugged physicality that caused one listener to remark that Stetson is simply a force of nature. He will perform his solo magic at the Arthur Miller Theater on January 15 and 16.     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2014.]


Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Crawford Out
For the second time in two years, city council voted to remove the city administrator.
James Leonard
My Neighborhood: Mitchell
An oasis of affordable housing at Colonial Square
Davi Napoleon
Photo: "Corner Bakery" (Big City Bakery)
Fifty Years at Bivouac
Last year was the toughest.
Ed Davidson
Private Schools
Nightspots: Habitat Lounge
Nightspots: Blind Pig
Today's Events
New Direction
Jim Harbaugh survived one of U-M's worst football seasons. Now he's shaking up his staff.
Craig Ross, Jan Schlain
Crime Map
A clickable, zoomable map
Observer job posting for admin assistant
a2view the Ann Arbor Observer's weekly email newsletter