Slow Descent is San Francisco reed master Colin Stetson's third outing as a leader. After all the years spent studying with Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill, and playing with everyone from Kenny Wollesen to Fred Frith to Tom Waits, Stetson is coming into his own as a composer. For Slow Descent is nothing if not a signature piece for a fine young composer who tests his harmonic, dynamic, and textural mettle on each of the disc's seven tracks. The band is a fine assemblage of the best the Bay Area has to offer: the group features guitar maestro Roger Riedlbauer, trombonist Tom Yoder, bassist Eric Perney, and the drum dancer himself, Tim Strand is on board. Stetson learned a lot in his woodshedding years because his compositions don't feel or read like some free jazz kid pouring everything he knows into each piece. In fact, the subtlety and elegance in these works is matched only by the restraint and masterful control used to rein in harmonics and solos -- in order to serve the spirit of group interplay and melodic invention. On "The Day I Stopped Trying," Riedlbauer and Perney usher in a spare, hypnotic phrase as a way for the them to eventually emerge, rather than to assert itself as somehow separate. When the rest of the band files in, Strand first, then Yoder, then Stetson, the tune itself is unfolding into a series of start melodics that seemingly float upon, rather that overtake the repetitive phrase. Tempo is strictly adhered to, but there are no seams between the players. When its interval changes at about two-minutes and ten-seconds in, the counterpoint appears to offer an alternate melodic universe, and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. Solos come and go, from Riedlbauer's blues-inflected phraseology to Stetson's own out blowing -- it flows. Likewise, the two-part suite, "Slow Descent Into Happiness," explores in its loping manner the interplay between pastoral melodies, folk themes, and the sonorities that exist between the trombone and the saxophones, and explores that sound world as the terrain in which the actual shape of the music comes to be. There are beautiful emotions in Stetson's music. They never assert themselves as individually dominant, but as different aspects of a complex, yet deeply moving, graceful, and sophisticated inner world that sings with mystery and aplomb. Stetson has come firmly into his own here; the marks his masters have left on him have become the strains of his own braid. Like Bill Frisell and Lester Bowie, Stetson has meditated upon the music surrounding him and created a signature style that is both warmly accessible and brilliantly challenging. It'll be difficult to wait for what comes next.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek