Colin Stetson - All This I Do For Glory
Listening to saxophonist Colin Stetson’s music can often sound more like a demonstration than anything. Watching him even more so. Both on record and during a live performance he employs, as is mentioned virtually anywhere you can read about Colin Stetson, a circular breathing technique, inhaling through his nose while blowing into the instrument for sometimes up to 15 minutes straight. Observing a virtuoso of any instrument can be breath-taking, but the incredible degree to which a woodwind requires both external strength and focus (or lack thereof) as well as immense lung capacity forces any onlooker to appreciate the sheer abandonment of all else besides brute physical magnitude funneled into sound. This technique and the lengths to which Stetson employs it would appear overweening if they didn’t inform the music itself. Stetson’s signature is riff-based and repetitive, lulling you into hypnosis that only works due to its unending drone.
On previous albums, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges (2011) and its follow-up To See More Light (2013), Stetson brought on vocalists including Justin Vernon and Laurie Anderson to complement what might otherwise be regarded as new age classical - not exactly the hippest genre to be lumped into for an artist who has backed monster indie acts like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Animal Collective, and TV On The Radio. Even 2015’s collaboration with Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld, Never Were the Way She Was, relied on the strength of a more harmonious second-half. And on All This I Do for Glory, for the first time since his full-length debut, Stetson relies almost exclusively upon himself. It is a challenge and statement for Stetson, one that asks if his compositions have the ability to stand alone while retaining the gritty engagement of previous efforts. In short, yes, yes they do.
Colin Stetson’s solo work resembles electronic music in its structure, and on All This I Do for Glory, to an extent that surpasses previous efforts. Songs build slowly from an initial, fast-paced riff, introducing new elements here and there until reaching a peak, then closing out. While percussive accompaniment is riddled across the record as is immediately apparent on the album opener and titular track, many subtler touches come from Stetson himself: the clicking of keys add a strange texture and nearly function as percussion; he’ll make a popping sound with his mouth against the reed as an exclamation mark; and he’ll sing through the mouth-piece with a melody that runs alongside arpeggios built by his fingers. It’s complex, dense, and impressive. Not to mention that the songs actually groove. From track-to-track we wander through hypnotic passages that may sound triumphant (“All This I Do for Glory”), moody (“Between Water and Wind”), or downright harrowing (“Like Wolves on the Fold”; “In The Clinches”), and yet, like Chicago footwork, these are also songs you can nearly dance to.
In the ten years since New History Warfare, Vol. 1, Colin Stetson’s musical journey has become just about as prolific as it can get for an experimental saxophone player. During that period of touring, recording, and collaboration, it seems Stetson has managed to continue crafting and expanding a sound while mastering his instrument to an alarming extent, resulting in something entirely unique. Colin Stetson’s musicianship is the kind that forces us to reconsider the capabilities of a specific instrument by exploiting its basic principles. It’s the definition of avant-garde. All This I Do for Glory is the sound of Colin Stetson flexing, the title serving as an honest admission.