Mesmerizing, progressive organic minimalism at its finest.
There is perhaps no other artist working today who takes as radical an approach to their instrument as Colin Stetson. Rather than playing the massive bass saxophone in any sort of traditional sense – something he has already long since proven to be more than capable of – he relies on a range of sounds that utilize the whole of the horn rather than the mere vibration of the reed on the mouthpiece and a handful of key combinations. Instead, his is a sound built from the clacking of keys as they rhythmically resound within the body of the instrument, superhuman circular breathing to produce a series of hypnotically cyclical overtones and multi-phonics, as well as an overabundance of air passing through the horn to the point where his breath alone becomes an instrument. And, often singing through the horn, he does all of this without relying on loops or overdubs. All This I Do For Glory is a real-time work of wildly creative urgency and quiet intensity that, performed solo, provides an unfiltered, warts-and-all look into the mind of a true avant-gardist.
Since issuing his solo debut at the turn of the century, Stetson has collaborated with a number of artists, often of disparate genres and styles, to interesting effect. New History Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light saw him working with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, while last year’s sublime Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony featured an impressive, 12-member ensemble take on the late Polish composer’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” And just the year before, the brilliant Never Were the Way She Was found Stetson collaborating with Canadian violinist and member of both Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, Sarah Neufeld on a series of hauntingly beautiful duets. For All This I Do For Glory, Stetson once more ventures out on his own.
On the opening title track, Stetson establishes a rhythmic clacking and clattering of keys set against a cyclical pattern of overtones. Then, slowly, his ghostly, ethereal wordless vocals begin emanating from the horn. It’s soothingly hypnotic with its repetitive, Terry Riley-esque take on minimalism that amps up in intensity as the song reaches its half-way point and Stetson shifts into a minor modality. Here he almost sounds like an even more abstract Radiohead, his voice hauntingly reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s wordless careening. Essentially, “All This I Do For Glory” sets the tone for the remainder of the album as Stetson refrains from deviating too far from this established formula.
Thankfully so, as it’s such an utterly unique and at times incomprehensible approach that, were it not for filmic proof of his otherworldly abilities, it would be hard to believe the sounds coming from his horn are those of one person. But such his remarkable control over his instrument that he is able to take it to places few if any have before, all live and captured for posterity. “Like Wolves on the Fold” shows a clear indebtedness to the likes of Riley and Philip Glass with its reliance on repetition and the gradual move from the core melodic figure in the musical equivalent of subtly widening concentric circles. Here his falsetto vocal rises and falls with the intensity of his performance, the horn more a calliope than singular reed instrument.
“Between Water and Wind” begins with an extended, fluttering growl that could easily be mistaken for guitar feedback were it not for the vibrating of the reed before exploding into a cacophony of rhythmic tapping of the keys and an almost guttural timbre that sounds wholly alien. Casual listeners will find themselves turned off by the apparent sameness of each track in terms of both form and structure, but those more adventurous listeners will be well served to simply allow the music to flow over and around them, succumbing to the hypnotic nature of the music, particularly on the sprawling, entrancing 13-minute closing track “The Lure of the Mine.” With its incessant swarm of bees sound and percussively punctuated attacks, “The Lure of the Mine” is the pinnacle of Stetson’s revolutionary approach to the saxophone. This is mesmerizing, progressive organic minimalism at its finest and undeniably the work of a creative genius and visionary.