Colin Stetson – The History of Warfare Volume 2 – Judges

This album gained good reviews for a reason. Simply put this album is better placed between Jackson Pollock and a Pablo Picasso paintings in any museum. It is sonic painting in its most expressive without being constrained to particular genre. Each piece on this album travels from the surreal to the abstract and back.

This album may be his magnum opus as his ability use advanced circular breathing, multiphonics, altissimmo, microtones, vocalisations, and growling techniques may never be duplicated on bass saxophone again.  The breadth of tones he is able to channel includes; a bass saxophone, distorted guitar, human voice, didgeridoo, multiple percussion, and string bass. Bass saxophone is not the only instrument he plays on this album. On the solo track The righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man he plays an alto with the same expressiveness as he brings to the bass.

Aside from the expressiveness and amazing control Colin puts on display it is his talent for weaving together his self-accompanying pieces with the spoken word of Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden. The husky femininity of their voices is the perfect juxtaposition to his rapid fire and haunting lines.

My favorite piece on this album is the Blind Willie Johnson piece “Lord, I just can’t keep from crying”. In this piece Collin fills the track with a deep dark didgeridoo like sound rich with harmonics. Shara Worden’s vocals captures the blues anguish of Blind Willie’s words. This track is moving in its simplicity and soulfulness.

This album is not always an easy pill swallow. If you are expecting Bix Beiderbecke styled 20’s era bass saxophone you are going to be very disappointed. Colin takes saxophone playing in new directions and the average listener will have to leave their expectations at the door. In fact I played this album for my non-musician mate and she couldn’t tell it was a bass saxophone. When I then explained that he was playing all of the tones in the piece Judges real-time, she was impressed but still unsure if it was a bass saxophone.

Take away: This album is playful, serious, and hectic at times. It is not something to listen to while driving or out for a run. Instead it is my opinion that this album should be listened to like a fine wine. Not to be consumed at every occasion but to be enjoyed when the mood strikes and you want a auditory journey.

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