COLIN STETSON — New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (review)

COLIN STETSON — New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges album cover Album · 2011 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
EatThatPhonebook
7/10

"Judges" is mesmerizing and unpredictable, like no other album that came out this year.

Colin Stetson is an American bass saxophone player that has gained a lot of respect in the alternative music scene, thanks also to his collaborations with bands like Arcade Fire or even with Tom Waits. “New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges” is his second solo album, a direct follow-up to the first “New History Warfare” that was released in 2008. How can somebody expect to enjoy an album were there is nothing but one instrument, in this case a saxophone? Well, “Judges” is the answer.

I was so surprised and impressed the first time I heard the title track, which was the first Colin Stetson track I’d heard. It was so eerie, strange, but it had such a fascinating sound, I was immediately hypnotized. And that’s how I feel about this album as a whole: mesmerizing and unpredictable, like no other jazz album that came out this year. Like I said, the only instrument on this album is Stetson’s saxophone; but, while recording the album, he used about twenty microphones put in one big room where Colin was playing. Its amazing listening to these tracks, thinking that that is a saxophone playing, while it could sound anything but. Of course not all the album is instrumental: in a few tracks, we find as a guest Laurie Anderson, the avant-garde musician, that gives some spoken word. There is also a singer, who some might recognize as the Decemberists female singer in “The Hazards Of Love” album, that gives her voice to a few tracks.

My problem with this album aren’t really the some of the songs; it’s just that I feel like “Judges” is just a simple collection of songs, ordered according to no criterion whatsoever, kind of the same thing that I said about the James Blake album. If the album was more “organized”, I would have definitely enjoyed it even more than I do now. Some of these songs, like the title track, “Red Horse”, “In Love And In Justice”, to name a few, are the songs where Stetson seems to experiment the most. There are then more straight forward, more melodic tracks, like the amazingly gripping and breathtaking “The Righteous Path Of An Honorable Man”, where Colin plays without any interruption. Then they are the creepy songs, like the spoken word ones, especially “a Dream Of Water”, really chilling thanks also to Laurie’s tongue-less voice, or the more dramatic “The Stars In His Head”.

In a way, this is a masterpiece of collage music, full of different pieces of music, that differ one another only by moods and atmosphere. That is most definitely the best way I can see “Judges”. If you like Experimental/ Avant-garde music, I strongly recommend this album to you, if you’re looking for something beyond normal.
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