Jerusalem In My Heart:
Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Two recent Constellation recordings by Jerusalem In My Heart and Colin Stetson speak to the Montreal-based label's ongoing commitment to provocative music-making. Worlds definitely collide in Jerusalem In My Heart's debut album Mo7it Al-Mo7it (Ocean of the Ocean), specifically contemporary Arabic and electronic music—even if the former is the more dominant of the two. Interestingly, JIMH is not an Arabian outfit but a Montreal-based performance collective formed in 2005 by musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (also a sound engineer, producer, and co-owner of Montreal's Hotel2Tango recording studio, where many a Constellation classic has come into being) and also featuring French musician-producer Jérémie Regnier and Chilean visual artist-filmmaker Malena Szlam Salazar (whose 16mm film projections and lighting effects are an integral part of the live presentation).
Mo7it Al-Mo7it begins arrestingly with “Koll lil-mali7ati fi al-khimar al-aswadi (Speak of the Woman in the Black Robe)” where Moumneh's voice passionately declaims backed by a brooding drone that eventually reveals a heavy synthesizer dimension—the album's two sides juxtaposed in the album's opening scene-setter. They're brought together even more explicitly when a rapid synthesizer loop accompanies an undulating vocal in “Yudaghdegh al-ra3ey wala al-ghanam (He titillates the shepherd, but not the sheep…)” and in the even more emotive “3anzah jarbanah (Sick, Diseased Goat),” which oozes anguish and desperation in the vocal performance. “Amanem (Amanem),” the hymn-like lamentation that ends the forty-minute project, proves to be as bewitching.Moumneh's buzuk playing imbues “3andalib al-furat (Nightingale of the Euphrates)” with an equally exotic and meditative ambiance, its peaceful character in no need of the superfluous bird chirps accompanying the aggressively picked strings. The same might be said for “Ya dam3et el-ein 3 (Oh Tear of the Eye 3),” although in this case the bird sounds appear alongside Sarah Pagé's stately Bayat Harp playing. On paper, the fusion of such contrasting strands might seem an unnatural fit, but, in fact, the group's wedding of associative aspects of Arabic music—emotional intensity, instruments such as the buzuk and zurna, and melismatic singing—to contemporary electronic production ends up sounding surprisingly natural. The key element is, however, Moumneh's voice, which, even when wrapped in distortion and delay, leaves an indelible impression.
As provocative is Colin Stetson's New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light, which sees the alto, tenor, and bass saxophonist once again offering bravura solo performances recorded live in single takes. A major selling point for the recording is the presence of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon on four tracks (his singing constitutes the only overdubbing on the album), though the idea is no crass marketing ploy as Stetson has been a Bon Iver member for over two years. In the final installment of a trilogy that saw its middle part, 2011's New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, show up on many a year-end list, Stetson mesmerizes the listener with a remarkable display of gut-busting circular-breathing technique—a display all the more impressive considering that it was all done sans overdubs or loops.
“And in Truth” finds Stetson's flutter and Vernon's multi-tracked vocals inaugurating the album with an impassioned gospel-like statement of intent, before the saxophonist digs into “Hunted” with a rabid roar, the attack so intense his vocal utterances wail through the instrument in tandem with the sax's guttural bark. His voice also appears during “High Above a Grey Green Sea,” though this time as a ghostly swoon haunting the soulful instrumental flow. Some surprising stylistic tendencies seep into the material, with “Brute” even sneaking in a bit of funk alongside Vernon's death metal-styled growl and “Who The Waves Are Roaring For (Hunted II)” and “Part of Me Apart From You” conjuring feelings of near-ecstatic uplift. But the album's obvious centerpiece is the fifteen-minute “To See More Light,” the longest piece Stetson has recorded to date and a stunning exercise that sees Stetson push nonstop arpeggiation, vocal exhortations, and dizzying melodic swirl to their seeming breaking point. As striking is the middle section wherein the tempo slows to a grinding crawl before resuming speed for the coda.
Propelled by light-speed arpeggios (e.g., “Among The Sef (Righteous II)”), Stetson's music often barrels forth with the relentlessness of a runaway train, and its physical robustness makes it feel almost as powerful and unstoppable. Adding to the considerable impression left by the album is the ease with which it freely ranges across styles and genres—soul, folk, experimental, metal, industrial, and gospel (the latter heard most directly in the cover of Washington Phillips' “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?”) among them. To call it amazing is no exaggeration.