Published Jul 17, 2016Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld are no strangers to Halifax's St. Matthew's Church: Stetson has performed there as a solo artist, while Neufeld has played the church previously with Belle Orchestre. Saturday night's (July 16) Halifax Jazz Festival show, though, was the first time the couple played the room as a duo, with his saxophones and her violin weaving over one another in the church's tall vertical airspace.
The two acclaimed instrumentalists — who've collaborated in Arcade Fire, among other projects — treated an enthusiastic audience largely to material from their 2015 debut, Never were the way whe was. As was the case with set-opener "The Sun Roars Into View," the pairing of Stetson's pulsing, otherworldly saxophone sounds — rhythm, melody and texture, all in one — with Neufeld's softer violin overtop created a fulsome spectrum, shifting between ugliness and beauty depending on the piece's need.
Though he started the show with a tenor sax, Stetson would later switch to a contrabass clarinet that offered an exceptionally compelling tone, as well as his iconic beast of a bass saxophone for later songs in the set like "Won't Be a Thing to Become" and his own solo performance. Neufeld, too, took a mid-set solo, performing "From Our Animal" from 2016's The Ridge; later, at the set's encore, the duo collaborated on another song from that record, "Where the Light Comes In."
But it was the Never were the way she was material that hit hardest. "The Rest of Us" was probably the strongest showcase for the duo, and a demonstration of the bursts of life that the two were able breathe into the material. It is perhaps the most intense track on the record, and live, Stetson's rhythms were shoved to the forefront of the soundscape, pushing the song forward with a deeply physical, almost terrifying momentum. It became a different, far more intense sort of animal — it howled, it roared, it soared.