Transcendental Weaponry


(Photography by Kevin Baluff.)

In 2013, minimalism is making a lot of sense. Fire, too.

It’s hard to describe why brass can sometimes be such a great communicator, but certainly in the right hands and lungs a honking saxophone can be supremely lyrical. This horn’s thudding, pulsing bleats are industrial and rusty. It sounds like sunken submarines and rotting war weapons singing. Its overtones are caustic.

Weird how this voice can sound even more human when it’s forced through the factory-like valves and bends of a baritone sax, when it sounds like the very tones are corroding as they’re breathed through the machine. Maybe this description makes the music sound ugly, but that’s certainly not the case. It’s rough-around-the-edges soul music as much as anything.

For everyone who lost the faith in Constellation Records around the time every provincial support band you saw were dying to be Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Colin Stetson is a sacred enough reason to be renewing your vows.

Colin Stetson – High Above a Grey Green Sea

More beautifully unpolished diamonds can be found in 2013 in the form of Mats Gustafsson’s ferocious Fire! Orchestra. The cunningly titled Exit! is two side-long commitments to sax-as-transcendental weaponry.

You may have last heard Mats’ sax coiling itself around Neneh Cherry in our Best of 2012 rundown. Here, it’s just one of 28 separate elements swirling and stampeding in a totally live mix. Amazingly the musicians manage to avoid the common mistake in free or semi-improvisational music of fighting for every inch of space like their balls depend on it and actually listen to each other. And it just gets better and better. Where Stetson threads minimalism through his saxophone-led pieces, Gustafsson floods his with lava.

Buy Colin Stetson’s  New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light

Buy Fire! Orchestra’s Exit!