We in Cincinnati are privileged to have an outstanding music festival featuring critically acclaimed indie musicians. The MusicNow Festival held every spring is a much anticipated event and tickets are hard to come by to see some of music’s best and most innovative artists. And every once in awhile someone takes you by such surprise and with such force, that you are left in total disbelief with what you just saw and heard. We experienced this last year at the festival.
The stage for the opening act of the night was bare except for a microphone, a huge bass sax, another standard alto sax, and a clarinet. Needless to say we were apprehensive. An unassuming young man in plain plaid clothes came onstage and began to play the bass saxophone. Over the next five minutes, he emitted sounds that were very close to whale voices interspersed with complex rhythms and we knew our life was forever changed.
Every generation has an icon that comes along and changes the way music is made. Buddy Rich, Les Paul, Miles Davis, Eddie Van Halen…all threw curveballs at the way an instrument is played and showed us a new way. Not only the way the instrument is played, but how it sounds as well. And now we have a new genius who is flying under the radar of popular culture yet he is out there, and you should go find him.
Colin Stetson is a Michigan native and Montreal resident who has played with many of today’s contemporary artists including Arcade Fire, TV On The Radio, Tom Waits, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood. His compositions show traces of John Coltrane’s running scale techniques while at the same time evoking Gregorian chants. Some pieces are dark and brooding, while others sound just like a techno song. But the bottom line is Colin has changed the way these wind instruments are played and sound. The breathing techniques Colin utilizes must have taken years to master. You will not believe that what you are hearing can come from a sax or clarinet.
Mr. Stetson has put out several albums including the outstanding, New History Warfare: Volumes I & II. All of his recordings are done live with no overdubs or any trickery other than the occasional addition of reverb. You can find him frequently playing in the New York City area, particularly in Brooklyn more often than not.
After his set at the MusicNow Festival, while receiving thunderous applause, Colin was visibly exhausted. Sometimes works of genius are quite demanding.
Listen to the videos and clips here to see for yourself the brilliant Colin Stetson and see how he is pushing the envelope of music and our perceptions of it.
Michael Spurrier. HighStreet. Cincinnati