SCFA Expansive Sounds Series #3: Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson is a bold, singular force in contemporary music. His recorded output, not to mention studio and live collaborations – with, among others, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Chemical Brothers, Bon Iver and Bill Laswell – has proven as prolific as it is praiseworthy. Since the 21st century’s early years Stetson has gained a well-deserved reputation as an exceptional musician, his devotion to craft consummate, his commitment to innovation indisputable. Known for assertive, powerhouse performances on the saxophone – chiefly bass and alto, but also soprano, tenor and baritone – Stetson employs extended techniques and intense dynamic volumes to maximum effect. He’s similarly at home, though, whatever the musical context, on clarinet, flute, French Horn and cornet. One might even say he operates in a field all his own.
Stetson’s 2007 breakthrough album, New History Warfare Vol. 1, coincided with his drafting by Arcade Fire, with whom he’d play until 2010. That year he moved to Montreal to join his future (but now ex-) wife, the band’s Sarah Neufeld, with whom he recorded the fervid and beautiful album, Never Were The Way She Was (2015), and the following year he released Sorrow, an extraordinary reimagining of Gorecki’s legendary Symphony of Sorrow. In-between he completed the New History Warfare trilogy, a virtuosic illustration of the “world-building,” as he calls it, that’s critical to much of his solo work, while 2017’s All This I Do for Glory consolidated his reputation, earning multiple nominations for critics’ Album of the Year lists.
Stetson’s nature is defiantly single-minded, and his dogged focus is always evident; his swooping, circling and soaring motifs display as much sensitivity as strength. This is something to which his striking – and diverse – contributions to film, TV and game scores also powerfully attest, including, most recently, 2018’s Hereditary and Red Dead Redemption 2, 2021’s Among The Stars, and 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Menu. As distinguished BBC broadcaster Mary Anne Hobbs once observed, Colin Stetson is “an artist that can change the way you actually think about music.”