Colin Stetson is a horn player of uncommon strength, skill and genre-defying creativity. He composes and performs otherworldly songs that combine a mastery of circular breathing technique with percussive valve-work and reed vocalisations, conveying a polyphonic solo music that combines influences as diverse as Bach, early metal, American pre-war Gospel, and the playing of Jimi Hendrix, Peter Brotzman and Albert Ayler.
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is Stetson's second solo record and his first for Constellation. Colin has been making his mark as a staggering solo performer for several years now, in front of audiences small and large, from intimate jazz and experimental music venues to big stages, whether opening for Arcade Fire or The National, or at jazz and new music festivals like Moers and London Jazz Fest. His talents have been widely recognised and employed by artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson, Antibalas and Bon Iver. His live solo performances are absolutely stunning and uncategorisable and he conveys a commensurate intensity and iconoclasm on this new studio album of original material.
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges was recorded entirely live in the studio at Montréal's Hotel2Tango, with no overdubs or looping pedals, using over 20 mics positioned close and far throughout the live room. Guest vocals by Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) are the only exceptions to this rule, along with one brief french horn suite ("All The Days I've Missed You") that was multi-tracked by Colin.
Stetson is able to weave an uninterrupted flow of arpeggiated swirls and chordal progressions while simultaneously singing yearning melodic lines through the reed of his horn - a technically powerful combination, exponentially intensified by Colin's innate sense of pace, phrasing and trajectory. Stetson approaches his solo work with one foot firmly rooted in a pop sensibility, harmonically and in terms of overall song structure - a sensibility on fine display in longer pieces like "Judges", "The Stars In His Head (Dark Lights Remix)" , "Clothed In The Skin Of The Dead" and "Fear Of The Unknown And The Blazing Sun". He can paint short, ecstatic spirals of rapid-fire ostinati that move through the entire range of the instrument, full of subtle rhythmic shifts and filigree, as with "The Righteous Wrath Of An Honourable Man", "From No Part Of Me Could I Summon A Voice" and "A Dream Of Water", all of which clock in at the 2-3 minute range (and the last of which features a spoken word vocal by Laurie Anderson). Colin can also shred, especially when rallying the full force of the bass saxophone, whether in the foghorn blasts that open the album or the gasping syncopated pulse of "Red Horse (Judges II)". The seamless, steamy, multi-timbral drone that underpins Shara Worden's guest vocal on "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes" demonstrates another side of Colin's mastery and sensibility.
The sessions were co-produced by Stetson and Shahzad Ismaily and engineered by Efrim Menuck at the Hotel2Tango, then taken to Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik and mixed by Ben Frost, the critically acclaimed experimental electronic/ambient composer and producer whose shared influences of minimalism, noise and black metal made him the perfect choice for a bold and unconventional approach to the raw material. Frost pushes and pans different mic signals to the fore from song to song (and within songs), eliciting a cornucopia of details and extremes in Colin's playing and highlighting the complexity of sounds generated by a single horn in Stetson's hands. Rhythms are formed by clicking keys, minute textures are brought forward by running ambient mics extremely hot, and low end is at times pushed fully into the red to devastating effect. Mastering by Mell Dettmer provides the final touch.
The result is a highly original, experimental and thrilling record that fires on all levels: as a document of an astoundingly strong and gifted player, as a compositional tour-de-force, and as a studio production bursting with intensity and inventiveness: a challenging work that resists classification but remains accessible to music lovers of many stripes.