Colin Stetson’s recorded output, not to mention studio and live collaborations – with, among others, Lou Reed, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Chemical Brothers, Bon Iver and Bill Laswell – has proven as prolific as it’s praiseworthy. Since the 21st century’s early years, he’s gained a well-deserved reputation as an exceptional musician, his devotion to craft consummate, his commitment to innovation indisputable. Known for assertive, powerhouse performances on the saxophone – chiefly bass and alto, but also soprano, tenor and baritone – for many years he was a wrestler, a sport whose “insane physical extremes” he credits with his style, alongside, among other things, a love for acts like Pixies and Fugazi. He’s similarly at home, though, whatever the musical context, on clarinet, flute, French Horn and cornet. One might even say he operates in a field all his own.
It was at university that Stetson first began playing regularly, “searching, reaching, and exploring the instrument” with Transmission (later Transmission Trio), before heading to San Francisco after graduating and, six years later, Brooklyn. Contributions were made to other artists’ recordings, not least Tom Waits’, and he made his own lowkey records too. It wasn’t, though, until 2007 that his breakthrough album, New History Warfare Vol. 1, was released, and this coincided with his drafting by Arcade Fire, with whom he’d play until 2010. That year he moved to Montreal to join his future (but now ex-) wife, the band’s Sarah Neufeld, with whom he recorded 2015’s Never Were The Way She Was, and the following year he released Sorrow, an extraordinary reimagining of Gorecki’s legendary Symphony of Sorrow. In-between he completed the New History Warfare trilogy, a virtuosic illustration of the “world-building”, as he calls it, that’s critical to much of his solo work, while 2017’s All This I Do for Glory consolidated his reputation, earning multiple nominations for critics’ Album of the Year lists.
Stetson’s nature is defiantly single-minded, and his dogged focus is always evident, his swooping, circling and soaring motifs displaying as much sensitivity as strength. This is something to which his striking – and diverse – contributions to film, TV and game scores also powerfully attest, including, most recently, 2018’s Hereditary and Red Dead Redemption 2, 2021’s Among The Stars, and 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Menu. As distinguished broadcaster Mary Anne Hobbs once observed, Colin Stetson is “an artist that can change the way you actually think about music.”