Colin Stetson
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Colin Stetson

Band Jazz Avant-garde


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Geodesic Squonk

Colin Stetson flaunts his globetrotting lips

by Buzz Poole
May 26th, 2006 4:20 PM

Few saxophone players bother with the bass sax—just wielding it is effort enough. Even fewer can say they've played nothing but in a band, often in lieu of a bass player no less. Colin Stetson is likely the only reedman to boast this; Jeremiah Lockwood's Sway Machinery is just one of the groups that keep the Greenpoint resident hustling all over town, impressing everyone who hears his genre-defying style. A practiced circular breather, Stetson's solo work ranges from fireside-warm Hungarian folk tunes to bass squonking that jackhammers the mind. "The horns won't be represented in three dimensions," he says of his imminent debut solo album. "If you think of the live thing as a geodesic dome and all the different noises as panels in the dome, the record will be that dome unfolded, placing all the sounds in the stereo field." Sound far-fetched? Just wait until you hear him make any of the reeds he puts to his lips pucker, pop, moan, bop, and sing.

Stetson also leads Transmission, a Midwest-bred, Bay Area–rooted, and now New York–franchised band of varying sizes and locales that moves with the narrative lilt of a Haruki Murakami novel as easily as it drops into singsong hecticness. The diverse plurality of their musical ideas makes singular the mix of post-bop swing, indie-rock power chords, and hip-hop breaks. Meanwhile, he also plays in the jazzed-out experimental salsa group Zemog El Gallo Bueno and Jordan Mclean's Fire of Space, specializing in an amalgam of Sun Ra tunes and Bollywood soundtracks. Stetson fuses odd time signatures to American roots music with a few incisive breaths. It stands to reason that as the world shrinks, Stetson champions multicultural music to fill the space we all share. No reason not to invite everybody on in.

Transmission play Zebulon May 31.


Jazz Bulletin

Slow Descent Review

the Colin Stetson CD surprised me just like his Transmission Trio did. Hard to describe the music, it reminded me of Mogwai and the 'film noir' type tunes by Vandermark 5. It's a bit less dark than Transmission Trio but still very mysterious and the tunes are elegant and graceful. There's plenty of free blowing going on, but with a certain restraint which creates space and a lot of interplay. Stetson is heard in a quintet setting here with bass/drums/trombone/guitar. Beautiful!


Transmission Trio Review:

Now the Transmission Trio CD is really something else. describes it as avant/indie/jazz/rock, yeah as if that makes sense?! It features Colin Stetson (who also played on Waits' 'Blood Money') on various reeds in a trio setting with bass/drums. It's equal parts wild and intense riffs, rythms and blowing (Stetson sometimes sounds like he's aiming to blow his horn to shreds, think Brötzmann) and dreamlike soundscapes of a dark, sombre beauty. It really blew me away! And there's no record label on the cover so it seems like they put the record out themselves.



Preview Transmission

It's difficult to write about bands that defy categorization; it's best to search them out and define them for yourself. San Francisco's Transmission (aka Transmission Trio) fits firmly into the tradition of fun — yes, fun — music that can't be crammed into a particular genre. Though they occasionally describe themselves as "groove-oriented avant-jazz," it's a disservice to pigeonhole a band that cites influences from Peter Gabriel to Mr. Bungle and Ornette Coleman. (Further complicating matters, saxophonist Colin Stetson is just back from a Japanese tour with future jazzbo Recloose.) Catch Transmission at Storyville tonight and let us know if you can coin a catchphrase to describe this eclectic, energetic group. (LE)


Transmission Preview:

It's hard to find a more lively act than the Transmission Trio, a spinoff of the full Transmission combo, who turn out hardscrabble funk and bare-knuckled jazz from a bass, drums, and sax alone (ok, sometimes horn player Colin Stetson, who's recorded with Detroit future jazzbo Recloose, throws in a clarinet for good measure). Percussionist Andrew Kitchen moonlights in local funk outfit Boostamonte while bassist Eric Perney is fresh from Tom Waits' recent album Alice, but they're not the only cats with pedigrees. Their setmates tonight are the old school acid jazzers Broun Fellinis, who list slots with Ben Harper and The Roots on their decade-deep résumé. Tonight's show, celebrating the release of the Trio's new CD, is a shot in the arm for the local live music scene, and with a $5 cover, just the right price. (SB)


Em Literary Website:

Colin Stetson and Slow Descent

We first encountered Colin's phenomenal music through his work with Tra -

"Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol.1"

This needs to be said up front: Colin Stetson is an absolute master of the saxophone. He has formidable breath control and circular breathing technique, a great sense of dynamics, and extremely impressive control over multiphonics and timbral changes: he can basically do anything that can be done with a saxophone (and maybe some things that can't). Although there is just a touch of studio treatment on a couple tracks and sampled, spoken intros to a couple more, New History Warfare, Vol. 1 is essentially an album of solo saxophone performances with no overdubbing. But this is no platform for free blowing and empty showboating; these pieces are clearly through-composed. Whether the track is one minute long or eight, there is an easily discernible structure, clear logic, and a strong sense of forward momentum to each of these tunes. Stetson's ability to build separate musical lines on top of each other is nothing short of astonishing. It's something like Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing two different melodies against a drone, except Kirk did it on three horns and Stetson is doing it on one. 

"And It Fought to Escape" is a perfect encapsulation of Stetson's style. It begins almost imperceptibly as a percussive pulse is established with the saxophone keys playing against a breathy background. He then adds bits of melody on top until he is having a conversation between different registers of the saxophone while somehow maintaining the pulse. The breath control and dynamics are amazing, as are the sounds he makes with his saxophone. Switching gears, "Groundswell" almost sounds like a flute/bass duet at times. On "Nobu Take," Stetson's clarinet sounds more like a keyboard, simultaneously evoking Eastern European folk music and electronica, while "Tiger Tiger Crane" begins with what sounds like beatboxing through the sax. But Stetson's musicality far outweighs any notion of gimmicks. The pieces are deeply focused and never overstay their welcome. Not only that, but the strong structures and internal logic of the pieces make them far more listenable than many so-called avant-garde recordings.

New History Warfare, Vol. 1 is a truly impressive, fully formed, and highly individual musical statement. It's amazing from a purely technical standpoint, but Stetson's compositions and ability to tell a musical story are what make this a great album. You haven't heard saxophone music quite like this. No one else could have written this music because no one plays quite like Colin Stetson. Truly impressive. Evan Parker fans, take note: this guy is someone to watch. -



Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol.1-Aagoo(2008)
TOM WAITS: Orphans-Anti(2007)
ARCADE FIRE: Neon Bible-Merge(2007)
TV ON THE RADIO: Return to Cookie Mountail(2006)

Zemog El Gallo Bueno (2006) Sax (alto, tenor, bari) clarinet, bass clarinet, flute - AAGOO

Transmission Hollow Sea E.P. (2005) Tenor Sax - BELLOWHEAD

Volney Litmus (2005) Sax (alto) clarinet - VEE RON RECORDS

Jeremiah Lockwood American Primitive (2005) Sax (Baritone, Soprano, alto) Bass Clarinet - VEE RON RECORDS

Box Car Saints Last Things (2004) Sax (alto, tenor) clarinet, bass clarinet - GRAND MAL RECORDS

Shrek 2 Original Movie Soundtrack (2004) Clarinet

Tom Waits Alice (2002) Clarinet (Bass), Saxophone, Sax (Baritone) ANTI

Tom Waits Blood Money (2002) Clarinet, Clarinet (Bass), Horn (Baritone), Saxophone, Sax (Alto), Sax (Baritone), Sax (Tenor) ANTI

Beulah Yoko (2003) Sax (Baritone), Sax (Tenor), Baritone - VELOCETTE RECORDS

Michael Kowalski Gringo Blaster (1994) Sax (Soprano) EQUILIBRIUM

Larval 2 (1998) Saxophone, Group Member KNITTING FACTORY

People's Bizarre Peoples Bizarre (2002) Clarinet, Saxophone - BELLOWHEAD

Recloose So This is the Dining Room (1998) Flute, Saxophone - PLANET E

Recloose Cardiology (2002) Saxophone - PLANET E

Recloose Spelunking (2000) Soprano Saxophone - PLANET E

Moe! Staiano's Moe!kestra! Two Forms of Multitudes Conducted (2003) Saxophone - PAX RECORDINGS

Transmission Trio Tiny Beast (2002) Clarinet, Saxophone,

Transmission Transmission (1999) Saxophone,

Various Artists This is Home Entertainment Vo1 (1997) Flute



Colin Stetson, the revered brass and woodwind player who has played and recorded with such greats as Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, TV on The Radio, Antibalas, Anthony Braxton, Medeski, Martin and Wood and Burning Spear has announced the forthcoming release of his latest solo full length album on Aagoo Records. Stetson’s thoughtcrafty experiments in sound on the album, titled New History Warfare: Volume 1 push the boundaries of genres and the sounds that can be expected from his vast assortment of instruments, including saxophones, clarinet, flute and French horn.

For more information:

Woodwind player Colin Stetson can play powerfully while circularly breathing for long periods, can draw multiphonics out of a sax with great skill, and can command an audience's attention with his focus and melodic improvisations. Stetson was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI, where he became proficient on assorted saxophones, clarinet, and flute. He earned a degree in music from his hometown school the University of Michigan in 1997, studying with Roscoe Mitchell, Donald Sinta, and Christopher Creviston; afterward, he went on to study with Steve Adams and Henry Threadgill as well. While still in college, he co-founded Transmission (which later became Transmission Trio), and in 1998 he played with progressive Detroit-area jazz-rockers Larval on their Knitting Factory album Larval 2. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area that summer along with the rest of Transmission, which released its first album in 1999. Stetson also branched out to play live with the likes of Fred Frith, Peter Kowald, Ned Rothenberg, and Kenny Wollesen, and kept up his Detroit/Ann Arbor connections as well. Before moving west, he had played on his friend Recloose's debut EP for Planet E, and their collaborations continued over the years, culminating in the DJ's acclaimed full-length Cardiology in 2002. Also that year, Tom Waits tapped Stetson for reed work on his Alice and Blood Money albums, which led to significant exposure and a live performance on David Letterman. His most recent appearance with Waits has been on the soundtrack to the animated feature Shrek 2. Stetson had a limited edition 3" CD release of a 2002 performance at the Artship in Oakland, and his full-length debut as a leader came in the summer of 2003 with the quintet recording Slow Descent. Since relocating to NYC in 2004, Stetson is performing regularly with the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Jeremiah Lockwood's Sway Machinery, Zemog El Gallo Bueno, and the ever present Transmission as well as performances with Sinead O'Connor, Burning Spear and Medeski, Martin, and Wood and Anthony Braxton. For more information.

-Steve Huey, All Music Guide (