Proved by his fantastically honked and skronked guest spots on a spell of pop, R&B and avant-leaning tracks over the last several years, Colin Stetson plays well with others, but damned if it isn’t magical when the saxophonist is left to his own devices. All This I Do for Glory is the Michigan-born hornblower’s latest solo effort in quite some time, coming off the heels of last year’s excellent Never Were the Way She Was collaboration with violinist and wife Sarah Neufeld, a reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, and a baritone sax-rumbling squabble of sounds on BADBADNOTGOOD’s IV track, “Confessions Pt. 2”. And while 2013’s New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light was technically the last full-length to be billed under Colin Stetson’s name alone, that collection of ambient wailing also came equipped with guest vocal turns from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This time around, Stetson’s all by himself, and, as the album title would infer, it’s glorious.
The bio delivered in the lead up to All This I Do for Glory makes mention of Stetson’s latest cycle being influenced by 90s electronic music, most notably the skittered soundscapes of Authechre and Aphex Twin. The musician’s latest run of compositions don’t exactly slap the same as a fritzed-out glitch LP, but the sounds can be just as alien. The opening title track works itself into a haunted hum of bass notes, the squelching approach playing sinisterly the longer the piece wears on, sounding something like a bold, brass-and-snaps revamp of Bjork’s “Army of Me.” The speaker-panning blur of the opening lick to “Like wolves on the fold”, while organically delivered on Stetson’s instrument, barrels out as if manipulated by a laptop producer. On the flip, Stetson’s vocal howling–pumped out in real time beneath his horn melodies and percussive fingering–come from the wilderness, landing feral, lupine. Fittingly, the percussive clacking of sax keys sounds like the frantic scritching of a pack of wolves.
At six songs long, All This I Do for Glory seems like one of Stetson’s slimmest offerings, on a surface level. The extended arrangements of the hypno-trip offers plenty, though. A ping-ponging percussiveness runs through “Between water and wind,” where Stetson’s instrument rattles dangerously as if it were rusting apart in his hands. Stetson’s signature venting technique, which blasts his in-between breaths into the arrangement, is measured in its method, but the busy in-and-out puffing adds extra tension to an already paranoid piece.
“Spindrift” is the ethereal mid-point to the LP, a blissful bustle of horn arpeggios and an almost Benedictine-like chant melding together ahead of a four-on-the-floor thud. “In the clinches” is the shortest song of the bunch, but it’s runs hard with its deeply stressful swells. The epic, 13-minute “The lure of the mine” contorts itself with wildly expressive and jittery scale runs, falsetto whale moans and rollercoaster pacing. Even if you were already familiar with the experimental jazzsmith’s work, this particular workout should stun.
According to a press release, All This I Do for Glory is apparently just the “first half of a doomed love story in the model of the Greek tragedies.” Despite the downer angle, Stetson’s latest is a total triumph. Bring on part two.
– review by Gregory Adams