American saxophonist and multi-reedist Colin Stetson took a well-earned standing ovation from a packed Howard Assembly Room after his intense solo set on Friday 11 March.
Stetson favoured a colossal bass sax for much of the performance, and the physical demands of his unorthodox technique — besides just lifting and holding the instrument — were clear to all in the intimate venue. Percussion from the instrument's mic-ed valves combined with growls, shrieks and chants from Stetson's collar microphone — and the sound of the reed itself — into an incredible polyphony in which rhythm and melody were impossible to disentangle.
It was also striking how small a debt the music seemed to owe to jazz. The repeated descending 'chord sequence' of the opener evoked Fun House-era Stooges in a more oblique and perhaps more convincing way than Mats Gustafsson's homages with The Thing. Elsewhere, the clack and boom of the valves and the repetitive structures brought to mind minimal techno or Kosmische musik as much as anything else.
In a pre-recorded interview on BBC 6 Music, broadcast just after he stepped off the stage, Stetson told Tom Ravenscroft about the technical and physical challenges of his solo work, his new 'reimagining' of Gorecki's Third Symphony, and the material he played on his three UK dates. "I'm just on the cusp of recording several new solo records", he said. "I always like to take it out on the road before I get it into the studio — it kicks it up a few notches, being on stage, lets me know what's possible".
Colin Stetson releases Sorrow, a reimagining of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, on Friday 8 April on 52Hz. A selection of May events in the Howard Assembly Room are on sale now, with the full Spring season on sale from Tuesday 22 March.