Mats Gustafsson / Colin Stetson – Stones

I’d like to write this review as a response to another, specifically Brian Howe’s review written for Pitchfork.  Howe assigned a less than favorable score to the new collaboration between saxophonists Gustafsson and Stetson for what he explicitly elaborated as a failure to meet his expectations.  More specifically, Howe describes the two performers as having contrasting styles, with Stetson favoring a more meditative approach to improvisation and Gustafsson being the wild one.  Howe concludes that such an opportunity to contrast these two opposing styles was missed, as both performers default on an abrasive, anarchic approach during the live performance at 2011’s Vancouver Jazz Festival that makes up the new release, Stones.

This review in question makes three unacceptable errors.  Firstly, it is a mistake on Pitchfork’s part to really ever review jazz records when the site is staffed mostly by millennials with a strict indie rock background.  The reviewers are always embarrassingly under-informed and really only reviewing music of a jazz or experimental nature in an attempt to establish their own credibility as well-rounded music aficionados, or simply because Thurston Moore told them to do so.  Evidence of such writers can be discovered in language such as “exploring jazz is contagious […] finding your way into modern jazz is much tougher.”  This is taken from this review of a record that the reviewer mislabeled (the album title is used as a band name, when the artists are actually Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman under no band name).  The fact that the writer feels the need to introduce the genre to the reader should warn you that you’re being lectured by a novice.

This leads us to the second error of the Stones review, which is the lack of available references due to the reviewer’s ignorance.  Surely, jazz is an aging establishment, but rock music isn’t all that much younger, which is why it astonishes me that these writers only reference classic essentials to describe the musical influences of jazz performers.  “When you think of free jazz featuring dual saxophone soloists, you might think of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on Meditations,” is an actual line from the Pitchfork review.   Of course we’re thinking of a John Coltrane duet!  Why wouldn’t we?  Whenever any of us think of a free jazz duet, we obviously only think of that specific fucking record!  Duh.  This pains me so fucking much, because Pitchfork’s rock reviews aren’t always referencing The Beatles or Elvis, but yet rock blogs reviewing jazz make a fucking point to reference either grandaddy Miles Davis or John Coltrane, since that’s all they fucking know about jazz.  Infuriating.  A lot has happened since the 60s, people.

The third and most apparent mistake of the review, however, is the assumption of the writer that the two performers have rigidly specific and opposing traits.  This error likely stems from the second error, a lack of reference and an overwhelming ignorance.  Perhaps if Howe had known of other records and collaborations by the saxophonists, he would understand the complex and diverse range both of these musicians brought to the fold.  But the intent of this particular performance was not what Howe would have directed it to be, so it’s shit.  Fuck Colin Stetson for not playing like he did on Judges, the only record of his work that I’ve heard!

But the real tragedy of this train wreck of a review is that it overlooks a truly remarkable collaboration.  And Howe’s desperately desired contrast is extremely present in numerous portions of the performance, which is an overall dynamic, moving, and shifting thrill that creates rich atmospheres and then shatters through them, with both performers exploring their recognizable styles.  Stones is a perfectly blended solution of uniquely fascinating elements, with rich flavors fitting in both high-heat intensity and stewing simmers.  And although Stones is a real standout, all of Howe’s generic criticisms can be easily directed at just about any new free-jazz recording, which is why I’m baffled that the review was even written.  Perhaps Howe should have simply prefaced his review with “Okay, first thing, I really hate the current state of free-jazz.  Here’s what I think, an opinion that I’m going to rush so I can return to listening to The Chromatics.”

Stones is currently one of this staff’s favorites for 2013 and is highly recommended.

-E. Adam



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