Tag Archives: jazz

#20: New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light – Colin Stetson

(Constellation, 2013)

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(Image from inyourspeakers.com)

Nothing beats the roar of an instrument giving a complete solo performance. No lattice to string notes between, no safety nets to pad the sound – the noise just curls and undulates out in space. At least it would if Colin Stetson said it was okay. Though there are a few extended drone-like passages, Stetson uses flurries of clustered notes in order to build his houses of horror and redemption. Not to mention the incessant clack of the keys and occasional deep-throated scream which has no tongue to articulate it.

Now on the third album in what, thus far, is a trilogy entitled New History Warfare, Colin Stetson takes his bass and other assorted saxophones up once again to construct entire soundscapes with. The effect is mesmerizing. Wave after wave of flitting, honking, scronking notes texture each piece, while the mic’ed up keys give it rhythm and Stetson’s throat-screams lend the occasional ragged melody. Despite the astonishing diversity of sound at no point does it feel like an attempt to simulate the pieces of an actual band – it’s still one man emoting feverishly in every direction he can muster. To see more light.

To counterpoint Laurie Anderson’s narrative appearance on the previous volume, recent collaborative darling Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (on whose doubly eponymous album Stetson appeared on in 2011) lends his high haunting vocals to the proceedings this time, with ghostly wails on “High Above A Grey Green Sea” and a very surprising turn into deathmetal growls on the album’s visceral apex, the stunning, aggressive “Brute”. On “Who the Waves Are Roaring For (Hunted II)”, Stetson briefly considers taking the back seat as Vernon attempts to stretch coherent melodies over top of the jagged architecture, taking each phrase as a new melodic hill to climb. On “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”, that arrangement is set more firmly, as Vernon’s multitracked vocals take precedence and Stetson’s wailing reigns in ever so slightly to allow some harmony to accompany Vernon’s lead. This is the only moment on the album that feels restrained, and provides sharp contrast to the unbound quality of the rest of the tracks.

Between the latter two tracks comes the finest demonstration of the album’s boundless nature, the title track, “To See More Light”. At 15 minutes, by far the longest track on the album and the longest in Stetson’s oeuvre, he has the time to set out for the goal stated in the track title. Lines build and build throughout, the energy never ceasing, never tiring, always grasping with no view towards cessation. This is where Stetson, no pun intended, shines. With a wider scope set around all of the manifestations of his wild muse, the picture comes into sharper focus and each mad tangent finds its own place within the sonic narrative.

Absolutely unlike anything else I’ve heard (save for Stetson’s previous outings), To See More Light expands what was built upon earlier in the trilogy and gives some new angles and fantastic payoffs, all rooted in the single instrument put in front of his face.

9/10

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#7: Trioscapes – Separate Realities

(Metal Blade, 2012)

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Now, my relationship to jazz is tentative at best, but I know what I like. And I like this. Trioscapes, as the name would suggest, are a trio consisting of drums (Matt Lynch), bass (Dan Briggs) and saxophone (Walter Fancourt), three of my favourite instruments. Three-member bands have a great appeal to me. Perhaps it because you can clearly demarcate the contributions of each member as they play or perhaps because the playing is uncluttered and allows more room to stretch out or improvise. Either way, I love me a good trio. And this is a good trio.

The first thing that struck when listening to this album was the drumming style of Matt Lynch, which seemed unusual for jazz drumming. No groove-heavy ride cymbal plonking or brushes that could be heard. The drumming is pretty much balls out, hailing deft snare blows on the listener whenever a crevice is available for it to peek through and avalanche upon avalanche of double kick drums. I am usually not a fan of a double kick drums and this is no exception, though I feel that’s more on my end than it not fitting the song. Whenever I hear a double kick blast, I am immediately taken out of the song (and taken to a metal song which I’m not enjoying) – just my prejudice. It fits in with the aggressive style of the music happening, though, suiting the metallic tinge that colours much of the record.

The saxophone doles out meaty riffs and spurious, frenetic improvisations in equal measure here, and having the mid and high ends all to itself, does not feel any obligation to tone down or subdue its attack. The morass of squealing notes reminds me of David Jackson’s (of Van der Graaf Generator) atonal noodlings at times, which is always a good thing. As many sax players seem to do, Fancourt takes his turn at the flute as well, but in a much more subdued manner, as it steals the occasional glance in “Curse of the Ninth”, flitting about to provide an extra layer when necessary.

Dan Briggs’ bass playing is muscular in both tone and style and roves – though with purpose, not nervously – cutting a wide path, and always in lockstep with Lynch’s drums. It hold down the chords it needs to for the sax to go madly off in all directions, but does not once produce a boring or middling passage. Much of the attack comes in the dizzying synchronicity of the rhythm section staying close together for tight passages, with a divebombing of saxophone on top in the high harmony for the finishing touches.

As a sort of fence-sitting jazz fan, I loved the hell out of this album. The tracks never seemed to meander so far into completely aimless noodling (not even the 11+ minute title track) and the musicianship is dazzling. The aggression in their playing can almost seem overwhelming at times, but if you prefer a heavier sound, this is the kind of jazz that’ll suit you to a tee.

8/10

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