Kevin Kastning: A Connection of Secrets
Greydisc Records

This third solo album from Kevin Kastning, he of the incredible-looking thirty-six-string Double Contraguitar and thirty-string Contra-Alto guitar, doesn't depart radically from those that have come before, but that it doesn't is in no way objectionable. That's especially so when no other guitarist sounds quite like Kastning and each release feels like the next chapter in an ongoing conversation. Or perhaps it would be more accurate—especially when A Connection of Secrets presents the guitarist alone—to think of the album less as a conversation and more a seventy-five-minute transcription of his inner musings.

Certainly the way a typical setting unfolds is much like the way consciousness does: patterns develop, some thoughts advancing logically and others less so, while at the same time pauses occur, their emergence suggesting deliberation as various ways forward are considered; sudden insights appear as interjections, non sequiturs that nudge the inner dialogue in fresh yet still related directions. Presented with Kastning's improvisatory approach, the listener monitors the artists' ruminative thought patterns as they unfold in real time.

Recorded earlier this year during three days in January, A Connection of Secrets was, in fact, recorded live in the studio (sans overdubs) at Studio Traumwald in Massachusetts; produced by Kastning compadre Sándor Szabó, the album is actually the guitarist's twenty-fourth overall and as such finds him completely comfortable with the recording process. With no other instrument sounds competing for one's attention, the listener is able to savour with the utmost clarity the distinctive tone colours of the self-invented guitars Kastning plays on the ten-track collection, two of them featuring the thirty-string, four the thirty-six, and three his fifteen-string Extended Classical. The latter is heard to especially captivating effect on “Silent Mirrors and Remembering,” though each of the nine guitar-based pieces is compelling in its own way.

Throughout the album, rapid runs and clusters alternate with plucked chords, Kastning exploiting to maximum degree the range of dynamics and pitches each guitar type offers. In stark settings such as “What you thought were alders in the snow...” and “...were fragments of your darkest history,” he favours a ponderous approach that allows the material to develop slowly, so much so that one begins to feel privy to his thought processes as they're happening. One rather unexpected move does arise four tracks into the release when Kastning exchanges guitar for piano on “Of Grasp and Knowing,” though the move is less dramatic than it might appear on paper when his keyboard playing replicates the ruminative style applied elsewhere.

On the accompanying press sheet, genres relevant to the release are listed, among them classical, jazz, ambient, and New Age; however, A Connection of Secrets, like Kastning's releases in general, ends up largely transcending demarcated styles to become instead the most recent instantiation of the guitarist's own self-created genre.

May 2017