“Stetson demolishes clichés to unleash fresh, unexpected energies. It’s like being inside an enormous brass tunnel full of windy byways and slamming valves, at once exhilarating and frightening.” – Pitchfork
Colin Stetson was born and raised in Ann Arbor, and spent a decade in San Francisco and Brooklyn honing his formidable talents as a horn player, working extensively live and in studio with a wide range of acts including Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, TV On The Radio, Feist, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, The Chemical Brothers, Animal Collective, Jolie Holland, Sinead O’Connor, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Angelique Kidjo, and David Gilmore. Meanwhile he has developed an utterly unique voice as a soloist, principally on saxophones and clarinets, his intense technical prowess matched by his exhilarating and emotionally gripping skills as a songwriter. He settled in Montreal in 2007.
In 2008 Aagoo records released Colin’s debut, the first in his New History Warfare album cycle. New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges arrived via Constellation in Spring 2011, kicking off a hectic year of solo engagements and year-round touring as part of the Bon Iver band. The album met with universal acclaim from critics across a spectrum of jazz and indie rock/pop cultural spheres: “pure revelation” according to All About Jazz, the album was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, and landed on year-end lists at Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, SPIN and the Village Voice. His frequent appearances on stages at SXSW, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and countless stops on the international jazz festival circuit cemented his reputation as a versatile and virtuosic player while bringing his solo work to a broad international audience.
Colin’s astounding physical engagement with his instruments (chiefly bass and alto saxophones) produces emotionally rich and polyphonic compositions that transcend expectations of what solo horn playing can sound like. Stetson is equally at home in the avant jazz tradition of players who have pushed the boundaries of the instrument through circular breathing, embouchure, etc. (i.e. Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson) and at the nexus of noise/drone/minimalist music that encompasses genres like dark metal, post-rock and contemporary electronics (i.e. Tim Hecker, Ben Frost – both of whom have mixed or remixed Stetson recordings).
April 2013 saw the release of New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light via Constellation, completing the conceptual and narrative arc of the series and constituting a definitive realization of his unparalleled musicianship and stunning skill as a composer. It has been received with exemplary recognition and was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
Most recently, in April of 2015, Constellation Records released the album, Never were the way she was, the first recording of Colin’s duo project with long-time collaborator Sarah Neufeld. Never were the way she was charts an expansive sonic trajectory with a multiplicity of structures and voicings that belies the fundamental economy of two acoustic instruments combining in real time. The resulting musical chronicle powerfully establishes its own spatial and temporal horizon; Stetson and Neufeld offer up an impressively immersive integration of composition, performance, timbre and texture. Never were the way she was is a sum quite definitively and thrillingly greater than its parts.
On New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light --
Colin Stetson has established himself as an intensely original solo composer and performer with the release of the widely acclaimed New History Warfare trilogy. Vol. 2: Judges (2011) ended up on countless year-end lists while the recent Vol. 3: To See More Light (2013) has expanded on this artistic and critical success. Stetson’s solo recordings have emphatically proved that his approach to (primarily) saxophone transcends niche or genre; a unique and emotionally resonant instrumental music with influences as wide-ranging as jazz, metal, pop, soul, drone, industrial, minimalism, electro-acoustic and modern contemporary.
Remarkably, Stetson channels these manifold musical strains into a singularly identifiable and personal sound as a polyphonic soloist who doesn’t rely on looping/layering or multi-track/overdubs technologies. Anyone who has seen Stetson in solo performance can attest to the stunning physicality of his circular-breathing technique and capacity to produce a seemingly impossible palate of multiple voicings simultaneously in real time – making his already beautiful and evocative compositions all the more enrapturing and viscerally human.
New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light is the final installment in a trilogy of solo albums and is Stetson’s most ambitious song cycle to date, again recorded live in single takes with a wide array of microphone positions and again mixed by groundbreaking producer Ben Frost. Colin’s membership in Bon Iver over the past two years has also led to vocal contributions from Justin Vernon for this record, who appears on four songs, with a diverse approach on each, and whose voice constitutes the only overdubbing on the album. It is the most cohesive and fully realized of Stetson’s solo albums and should reliably stand as the apotheosis of the New History Warfare trilogy, signaling the full flourishing of Stetson’s unique talents as both composer and performer, pressing his arsenal of virtuosic techniques into the service of vivid, impassioned and conceptually astute songcraft.
– Ian Ilavsky, Constellation