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Woodwind player Colin Stetson can play powerfully while circular 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, Michigan, 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. 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, who released their first album in 1999.
Stetson also branched out to play with the People's Bizarre, a chamber jazz group influenced by Eastern European folk, and Connector, which blended acoustic and electronic instrumentation. In the meantime, he also played 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 The Late Show with David Letterman. 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.
Stetson moved to Montreal, Quebec in 2007, and the following year he delivered the primarily solo saxophone album New History of Warfare, Vol. 1. He returned in 2011 with the excellent New History of Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges, which featured spoken word sections from avant-garde singer Laurie Anderson, and later in the year he released an EP, Those Who Didn't Run. He has toured with Arcade Fire and Belle Orchestre, and recorded with scores of artists, including Anthony Braxton and Bon Iver. In 2013, Stetson returned with New History of Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light. The only overdubs on this atmospheric album came in the form of guest vocals by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. He also contributed to Arcade Fire's Reflektor album. In 2014, Stetson played on "Dreaming Awake," the first track off My Brightest Diamond's None More Than You EP, and Timbre Timbre's Hot Dreams. In 2015, he and violinist Sarah Neufeld — another Constellation artist as well as a member of Arcade Fire — recorded the album Never Were the Way She Was, a set of live-in-the-studio duets. It saw release in the spring.
Though Stetson continued his wide-ranging work as a studio and touring sideman as well as a solo performer, he turned to realize the dream of revisioning Polish composer's Henryk Gorecki's prize-winning best-known work, Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) as his next solo project. Considering it a transformative work in his musical life, he utilized altered instrumentation, including electric guitars, winds, an orchestral string section, rock drums, and electronics. Members of his cast included Neufeld, Liturgy's Greg Fox, Esmerine's Rebecca Foon, saxophonist Matt Bauder, and mezzo-soprano Megan Stetson (Colin's sister). This new approach drew from his classical and improvisational backgrounds as well as black metal and electronic music. The album, released as Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony, was issued by 52hz in the spring of 2016.