Monday, April 27, 2015

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld – Never Were the Way She Was

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld – Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation)

She’s a member of Arcade Fire; he sometimes plays with Arcade Fire. She founded Bell Orchestre; he joined later. He has three albums of solo saxophone performances; she has one of solo violin. They both record for Montreal’s Constellation Records. Both are fond of chugging eighth- and 16th-note rhythms. They run yoga studios together. They’re a romantic couple. This album was inevitable.

And yet, like any collaborations, it’s often a compromise, where each performer merely adds texture to a piece that’s perfectly in keeping with the other’s normal modus operandi. There are moments here where one person is merely duplicating the other’s part, just on a different instrument, a different octave. Both these performers have their own unique style: surely they’re not suddenly going to reinvent themselves.

The best moments here are when they play off each other, trading roles, intertwining, their ghostly vocals harmonizing in the ether while their instruments wrestle with each other on Earth. As with their solo records, this was recorded live, with no overdubs, which makes the spectrum of sounds here all the more impressive. In so much of his solo work, Stetson has us asking, “How does he do that?” The sounds themselves, however, are not unfamiliar. On “With the dark hug of time,” however, it’s unclear exactly what the hell he’s doing at all: it’s completely mystifying, evocative and magical.

I’d still rather hear a new Bell Orchestre album or see Stetson follow up his New History of Warfare trilogy album with something completely different, but there’s no denying the chemistry—musical and, er, otherwise—these two have finally bottled.

Download: “Won’t Be a Thing to Become,” “In the Vespers,” “The Rest of Us”

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