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Colin Stetson & Mats Gustafsson


(Rune Grammofon; US: 8 Jan 2013; UK: 14 Jan 2013)

Colin Stetson and Mats Gustafsson are two of the most brave and inventive saxophonists working today, as evidenced by their solo work and their work with scads of other great artists. Stones documents a live improvisational performance—the first for the pair, from the 2011 Vancouver Jazz Festival. It’s a unmoored, chaotic set, sometimes beautiful in its aural onslaught. The two players move through four movements circling around each other, bleating and groaning in quick bursts of noise, often unconcerned with toning it down to more subtle tones. This is equal parts sonic fight and ramshackle dance between the two, both in search of some new musical landscape, each scraping out holes and piling up crags on top of the other’s playing.

It’s a curious confusion of noise, and sometimes—as on the first half of closer “Stones that Only Have”—a pleasing surprise. But, often this is the kind of free-jazz that is, well, too free, a series of explorations with no genesis, no starting points and thus, no discernable direction. There’s certainly a zeal to the playing here, but in piling all these brash sounds on top of each other, Stetson and Gustafsson create a wall between us and them, so even if their music is sometimes fascination, it’s also often alienating. They sound like they find some tenuous common ground here, some new feel in their wandering, but it’s hard for us to cut through all the pounding noise and hear what that is.


Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.

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