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Colin Stetson: The Tale of a Master Musician

Multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson’s résumé reads like a madman’s diary, a journey of lengthy creative encounters with an eminent list of bands and fellow musicians from across the wide musical spectrum: Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, Feist, Bon Iver, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, David Byrne, Jolie Holland, Sinead O’Connor, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Angelique Kidjo and Anthony Braxton. You’d be hard-pressed to find a player today working with similar credo, guts and taste.

While his pairings may knock your socks off, alone is where the man really blows…literally. Over the course of his two solo records, New History Warfare, Volumes 1 and 2, Stetson has birthed a singular and unique voice for his saxophone, clarinet, cornet, French horn and flute. Hell, you’d be hard-pressed to even distinguish the sounds of these instruments, given the array of tweaks and turns he’s developed through a mastery of circular breathing, rhythmic valve-work and reed vocalizations.

While the music defies easy categorization – it touches on everything from free jazz and contemporary classical to metal, pop and rock – thematically his two albums are linked in a complex web of thought and processes. “I think of the first record as the story of a people lost at sea. There’s a lot of churning, searching sort of material there. It floats and drifts and occasionally gets blown apart. The idea in Vol. 2 is that there is a singular perspective, the sole survivor, washed up alone in a strange place and this is that narrative,” he says.

Important to any innovator or creator, Stetson does notice an artistic growth that occurred between the two offerings. “The songs are more developed and thoroughly composed, and the mic placements are much more thorough. There’s not much that we didn’t mic. That, and my abilities physically have advanced far from what they were when I recorded Vol. 1, so there was just more I could accomplish musically with this one.”

His kind of town
Colin Stetson’s life travels have seen him leave his native Michigan in the late 1990s, shack up in San Francisco, hibernate for a while in Brooklyn, before finally settling within the frigid walls of Montreal in 2007. To say he’s been affected positively by life in our fair city is a dramatic understatement.

“Moving to Montreal has definitely afforded me a life outside of the hustle. I can devote more of my time and energy to fewer projects, which is good. And I have a garden now, and that just makes me happy,” he mentions. “But most of all, I think Montreal is one of the few places left in North America – a vibrant and multi-cultural city – where an artist can be just an artist. This is rare. It makes it a better place, it makes for good people, and I’m glad to be a part of the community.” We should count ourselves as blessed to say he calls our city home.

Colin Stetson
June 17th | Sala Rossa
as part of Suoni per il popolo
4848 Saint Laurent
with Hangedup