Colin Stetson & Mats Gustafsson - Stones [Rune Grammofon - 2013]Heres a duo album from a pair of very recognisable names, although its possibly the first time I’ve heard them both proper. Both Stetson and Gustafsson are associated with interesting saxophone work and they don’t disappoint on “Stones”: four duets amounting to over half an hour of spiralling notes and gruff bellows. I’ve always been drawn to the “invasive” intensity of solo recordings, but I’ll admit that duos hold a special place in my heart; they allow for some of the “hardboiled” aspects of solos, whilst also presenting the possibilities of split-second co-operation and disintegration. “Stones” is a very listenable example of this “telepathy” at work.
According to the sleeve (I’m reviewing a promotional copy), Stetson plays “alto and bass saxophones”, and Gustafsson “tenor and baritone saxophones”; now, I will be honest and say that rather than spend time deciding who does what on each track, for the time being I have simply enjoyed the sounds and interplay. Its difficult, initially, to worry about attributing the playing to either person, since the beauty of the sounds are so overwhelming. Indeed, to carry this lack of analysis further, I don’t believe theres much I need to say about “Stones”. So I won’t attempt a track by track account or unpicking but instead just give you a sense of the “spirit” of the release.
The first thing that strikes the ears is the brute force of some of the playing: “two elephants circling each other” wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all. Notes are torn and strained, disrupted to the point of noise; either shrieking screams or guttural blasts. Its a thundering recording at times, with the bass and baritone saxophones giving the album serious pummel. Extraneous sounds are also to be found in the fevered stew: clumps and thuds that might be feet, as well as hollers from the players themselves - all adding to the vibrant feel of the album. If “Stones” is starting to sound like a noisy blow-out, you’d be quite wrong, though: these noisy passages flow into and out of more restrained, even lyrical sections of playing. Sometimes these are more “soundy” in nature, with John Butcher-esque “blipping” and other extended techniques; other times they are overtly melodic, like the calming ending to “Stones That Need Not”. With this is mind, it has to be said that there is a strong melodic element to the entire album; not strictly “jazz”, as such, but passages of playing that concentrate on harmonies and counterpoint: its an incredibly varied listen, with these sections developing effortlessly out of each other. Another element that adds to this “accessibility” (“Stones” has none of the “strenuousness” which is associated with free-improv) is Stetson and Gustafsson’s use of rhythmic sections - halfway through “Stones That Can Only Be”, for example. All these various approaches: sonic, melodic and rhythmic, are concentrated and combined in small sections that add up to organic collages.
This is very simply a great release, full of wonderful moments of skree and “improv-telepathy”. At times, its difficult to believe that there’s only two persons playing - “Stones That Need Not” has a section with such a flurry of notes that you imagine a delay pedal must be in use; but at other times, the locked-in nature of the duo’s playing leads to incredible “on a dime” co-operation. There’s almost a “modular” feel to the tracks, with ideas being explored in small sections before developing into the next, with the varied colours and tones of these passages giving it a sense of collage. All of this comes together to make an incredibly listenable, and rewarding, album.Martin P