Recorded live at the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 2011, Stones is the debut collaboration between groundbreaking saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and Colin Stetson. Both men are well documented as soloists and collaborators. For Gustafsson (tenor and baritone horns here) the list includes his own bands the Thing and Fire!, as well as Sonic Youth, Boredoms, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, and Peter Brötzmann. Stetson (alto and bass saxes), a member of Arcade Fire's touring ensemble, has played with everyone from David Byrne and Laurie Anderson to Tom Waits, Feist, and LCD Soundsystem. Comprised of four on-the-spot improvisations, these titles were inspired by the late poet Gunnar Ekelöf (the father of modern Swedish poetry). This is not a skronkfest in which two saxophonists go head on. Instead, these improvisations express a deep, wide-ranging communication that employs rhythm, dissonance, an unconventional yet clearly present lyricism, tonal and harmonic explorations, and various mechanical techniques. The technical prowess on display is considerable, but it is secondary to Gustafsson and Stetson making music together. While the album begins slowly and purposefully, finding tonal commonalities in lower-end expression, it moves far and wide. A language is discovered very early, and what these two carve out in "Stones That Rest Heavily" and establish in "Stones That Can Only Be," are codes of speech: utterances, dynamics, spaces, exclamations, and textures. They are the building blocks of a mysterious, even beguiling conversation. But that speech is not limited; they don't stay in one place long enough to be weighted by their discoveries; they push at them until they give; going underneath them into their core, which in turn becomes the articulation of music's own multifaceted expressive poetics. Though immediately drawn in by the proceedings, by the time we encounter "Stones That Need Not," and closer "Stones That Only Have," even the human voice is utilized in a string of fluid inventions and exchanges that are startling in their complexity, intuition, and emotion. The listener is not excluded from this conversation. Instead, it is extended to her via the duo's adherence to close listening and the economy of their individual and collective expressions. With Stones, Gustafsson and Stetson have encountered not only one another in a magical way, but they communicate the power of beauty itself.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek