Saturday, January 14, 2012

Best Albums of 2011 #3 Colin Stetson - Judges 2: History of New World Warfare (Constellation)

Bass saxophonist Colin Stetson clearly has an incredibly deep and intuitive sense of the power of microphone placement. Judges 2 is essentially a live album, recorded in a single take with no instrumental overdubs or processing to speak of (at least not of the saxophone, almost the sole force on this album). And yet the album sounds like some ferocious, immense whirlwind, a demonic army of musicians producing a giant, pulsing, overwhelmingly powerful tapestry of sound. Instead it's just one guy with a giant horn surrounded by mics. Some are far away and pick up the saxophone as a distant thrum. Others are placed directly in front of Stetson, capturing his gasping breath, his vocalized cries through the reed, the pulsing percussion of his fingers flying over keys. These sounds are layered, spilling over and into one another. In Stetson's hands dizzying arpeggios, siren squalls, lowing foghorns, timbral dronescapes, and more come together to form an album that is by turns bleak and desolate, eurphoric and elating, and always, moment by moment, surprising, arresting, even awe inspiring. Stetson's enthralling instrumentation is accompanied on several tracks by a beguiling tone poem of sorts. This semi-narrative tells a tale of blackened landscapes, desperate flights from nameless terrors that for some reason feels strongly reminiscent of Paul Auster's "In the Country of Last Things." There's even one track that's feels like an old spiritual, a deeply affecting piece. But, of course, that could be said of this whole album. The Constellation website says "[Stetson's] percussive valve-work and reed vocalisations make a polyphonic solo music that combines influences as diverse as Bach, early metal, American pre-war Gospel, and the explorations of Jimi Hendrix, Peter Brotzman and Albert Ayler." Just so. This album is so rewarding and so brilliant that even though it doesn't top this list, it's possibly the most essential listen of the year nonetheless. Staggeringly good stuff.

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