Concert Review: Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld (5/9/2013)

After work on Thursday, I headed down to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see the sold-out Colin Stetson concert. It was being held in the relatively new Alfond Auditorium, where I haven’t been before – I think it is mainly used as a film screening room and not for concerts. It only seats about 150 audience members, which is less than half the size of the auditorium where they usually hold concerts. It was a nice, intimate space, and had a lot more personality and warmth than the other auditorium (which I’ve been known to describe as “the most personality-free space I’ve ever seen a concert in”).

Sarah Neufeld was the opening act, playing solo violin. Since I came straight from the office, I didn’t have any recording equipment with me, so I’ll give you a sample recorded by someone else:

I wasn’t exactly blown away by her performance at the MFA, but she played some nice stuff – and she got a great reaction from the crowd. Someone sitting behind me said “wow!” after almost every piece she played. (I think I am probably harder to impress since I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of truly world-class musicians lately… I hope I’m not getting jaded!) She did one duet with Colin Stetson, and that was pretty interesting – bass saxophone and violin aren’t the world’s most obvious instrumental duet, and I always like seeing something different.

Colin Stetson’s solo set definitely fell into that same “something different” category, and I just loved it! He brought both a bass saxophone and an alto saxophone, and even though he probably didn’t need to use amplification in such a small room, he had microphones hooked up to them and the bass sax was sent through a couple of big subwoofers. I would have preferred to hear it unamplified – there were times where I was wondering if the bass was distorting or if the saxophone was just achieving a particularly strange texture/timbre. He really coaxed some unusual noise out of the bass sax and often managed to sound like a duo or trio all by himself, with a melody, percussion/bass and even something approaching vocals. A fascinating listen, and strangely moving at times for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As interesting as that was, I found my favorite pieces of the night were the ones he played on his alto sax. The sound reminded me of listening to a river or stream – relentlessly flowing and having a certain constancy to it, but at the same time fluctuating and changing all the time. I could have listened to those pieces all night. If my memory serves me, this was one that he played for us:

I definitely recommend checking Mr. Stetson out if he comes to your town, he’s currently on tour and has about a dozen more dates listed on his website. Hopefully I’ll see him back in Boston before too long!

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4 Responses to Concert Review: Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld (5/9/2013)

  1. Bjorn says:

    The reason Colin Stetson uses amplification and put a couple of microphones on his saxophone (correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not a specialist in those technical matters) is because he uses the instrument also as ‘percussion’ by e.g. hitting the valves. Without the amplification you wouldn’t be able to hear that I suppose.
    In recording his album he put -if I’m not mistaken- 24 microphones on the saxophone, in the room and apparently even one on his own neck.

    Having said that: his previous album (New History Warfare Vol 2 Judges) is a masterpiece. The new one (Vol 3 To See More Light) is excellent as well, though it lacks the surprise-effect of the previous one.

    • Sarah V. says:

      Thanks for the info re: the microphones, very interesting! I am glad they did it for a good reason and not just a mistaken idea that it needed to be louder…

  2. Roddus says:

    Both of these videos are intriguing, I have never heard a sax make noises like that even after listening to John Zorn blast the hell out of his for the last 25 years.
    I was thinking “how good is a solo violin gonna sound” but Sarah does an impressive job on this clip. I probably wouldn’t buy their records but I would enjoy something like that live.

    • Sarah V. says:

      During the show I was wondering – what would it have sounded like if Zorn had taken up the bass sax instead of the alto? Stetson came up with some *really* unusual sounds out of that…

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