Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Post-Polaris '13: Colin Stetson Enamored

Last night was a trip.

Working at the 2013 Polaris Prize gala last night, I obviously had a number of pre-conceived notions of which short-listed artists I thought were worthy of assuming the coveted title. Listening to the various critics' rationales, personal opinions and visceral reactions to the artistic merit behind each nominated album proved interesting; some well-argued positions I strongly agreed with, while others, I just couldn't get on board with. Going into the gala, I was hoping that A Tribe Called Red's album - the First Nations music and dance-blended release that I thought most meaningfully represented triumph in Canadian music this year - would take home the grand prize.

While I remained fairly unwavering in my choice, being surrounded by so many thoughtful, passionate and differing opinions - all while catching glimpses of the extraordinary performances - had me back and forth and up and down, and eventually strongly leaning towards Colin Stetson's influential (and athletic) experimental jazz album, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light. While I'd listened to (and really enjoyed) this album before, some very assured opinions reminded me of its genius, and the special role it played in Canadian music this year.

The Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Feist and TV On The Radio (to name a few) band member's long pieces of saxophone-driven instrumentation are challenging; they can be dark and chaotic, while also melodically uplifting. Thanks to his rigorous touring and fitness routines, Stetson is able to produce uninterrupted and intricate wind suites that include acrobatic rallies with the album's guest vocalists, including Justin Vernon. Although the complicated bouts of saxophone gymnastics might be too oddball and inaccessible for an unsuspecting listener - I think that, outside of the sheer impressiveness of Stetson's musical athleticism, this music is actually brilliant.

Not for everyone, but certainly for me. Here's a taste of Stetson, who didn't receive the prize, but deserves another tremendous nod:

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