Colin Stetson: Sax Man Steps Out On His Own

Colin Stetson plays bass saxophone, an instrument that would look big on Yao Ming. On Stetson’s second solo effort, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, he draws on the NYC downtown jazz scene of the ‘80s as well as the far-out playing of Albert Ayler.

Tom Waits fans might recall Stetson’s name from the early ‘00s. He plays the haunting sax on “Alice” and lovely clarinet on “All The World Is Green,” among other tracks on Waits’ 2002 albums Alice and Blood Money.

If you approach Judges thinking late-career Waits, there are definite touchstones. There’s some of the wildness of songs like “Kommienezuspadt” and “Reeperbahn” (which Stetson plays baritone sax and bass clarinet on, respectively), but Stetson also completely embraces repetitious, free jazz while Waits seems mostly interested in making demonic pastiches of carnival music.

The album has a little something for everyone, from the electronic skronk of “Awake On Foreign Shores” and the Dark Lights’ remix “The Stars In His Head” to the gentle, Bachian minute-long dirge, “All The Days I’ve Missed You.”

“From No Part Of Me Could I Summon A Voice” and “A Dream Of Water” are both chariot race symphonies of free jazz, the latter featuring spoken word guest vocals from Laurie Anderson and a coda of ocean sounds.

Stetson is perhaps most sublime on “Home,” which sounds like a warped record playing a beautiful pre-jazz melody, with a medieval horse’s hoof beat as its slow rhythmic counterpart.