Music Reviews
Those Who Didn't Run

Colin Stetson Those Who Didn't Run

(Constellation) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

I know as much as the next guy about circular breathing. So I go on YouTube and watch Kenny G give a lesson on it. “It only took about twenty years to kind of get it...OK”, he admits with a smile. So you breath while you play, I learn. The video lasts two minutes and has 565 likes and 106 dislikes. The like/dislike bar looks like a joint burning.

No one can be Roland Kirk, not Kenny G, not Colin Stetson. But Stetson begs to differ. The psychological implication (or: why he's releasing Those Who Didn't Run in the first place) behind is to show off his technique in longer songs – the two songs are ten minutes (his longest song on his other 2011 release New History Warfare Vol. 2 is 5:30). They are repetitive and sound like off-color Steve Reich imitations. Stetson plays continuously. It sounds tough to do, was recorded without overdubs in one take, and could be either improvised or composed. On the title track there's a vocalist chanting the OM syllable. And that's all folks. Twenty minutes of circular breathing. You can love it or hate it.

Sure enough, I expect Stetson's New History Vol. 2 to be on a ton of “Best of 2011” music lists, but I don't know why. It's not a love-hate relationship I have with his stuff, it's more like a so what attitude. So what if he gets Laurie Anderson to recite drab poetry on his record, so what if he can play tens of thousands of notes in one breath. (For the record, this is coming from someone who once upon a time played alto sax in middle school.) But whatever, I like jazz and know that Stetson's not jazz...more like “thematic saxophone virtuosity”. His style is more like beatboxing. He's an artist attracting the masses of Animal Collective/Deerhunter/Bon Iver fans to expand their tastes, which is commendable, but who, after listening to this stuff, is gonna want to go out and get some Coltrane or Charlie Parker? (Who's gonna want to go out and get anything?) It's precisely because his music isn't jazz that attracts and repels me. And maybe at the heart of Stetson's playing lies the fact that brass instruments are not and shouldn't always be connected to jazz music. That too is commendable.

I just don't buy any of this apocalyptic mumbo jumbo that's omnipresent behind his songs and their song titles. Everything has some sort of conceptual purpose, like a thesis for a Masters Degree. But not Those Who, or at least Constellation Records' online press release doesn't mention one. That's part of why it doesn't exactly bother me to hear his repetitive mantric saxophone; Stetson's getting a lot of nods to Philip Glass' solo saxophone work - work I didn't know existed. If we want another Paganini, we've got Stetson to listen to. I guess I'm just bored with virtuosity-  too old hat, interested more in a simple melody then a technical free for all. Get ready Minehead, England. He's coming to you soon.