Colin Stetson certainly can't be accused of playing things safely on his debut. Since graduating with a degree almost a decade ago from the University of Michigan, he's played and recorded with everyone from Arcade Fire to Tom Waits and Anthony Braxton. He's joined with Medeski, Martin and Wood and Antibalas, and has become masterful on saxophone, clarinet, flute, and french horn. New History Warfare: Volume 1 takes four instruments and unfolds a singular album full of uneasy sound birthed purely from reeds.
My mention of playing things safe above refers to that fact, as a lot of artists simply would have called in a bunch of friends and banged out a more structured release with full instrumentation, but Stetson lets it all hang out here on these uncompromising tracks and the result is something that floats somewhere between Coltrane and minimal noise, with only alto, baritone, and bass saxophone and clarinet for sound sources (along with some spoken sound samples). The result is something that's a bit foreign, even in todays age. "And It Fought To Escape" opens the release and runs over eight minutes, starting out with muffled puffs of alto sax, but eventually lets the tone escape into yelping frantic melodies. The quiet sections are even more tense, as the tapping of the pads against the tone holes and breathing of Stetson himself both add to the piece.
Over the course of twelve tracks and forty-eight minutes, Stetson amazingly pulls off a great deal of variety, with a couple short tracks that are sheer blasts (the foghorn-and-clatter of "Drown The Rats And Giants" is a gem), while others develop much further (the beautiful "Nobu Take" sounds like a stuttering Eastern melody that morphs into such a frantic freakout that it's hardly believable a human is playing it). Sometimes the pace is heightened, and in others he plays things out slower with a greater sense of dread. "Time Is Advancing With Fitful Irregularity" even pulls together multiple feelings of odd dread, with one section even finding Stetson playing and talking (yelling) through his instrument at the same time. Definitely not an easy listen, New History Warfare: Volume 1 is an adventurous debut for fans of free skronk and just plain textural sounds.