Kevin Kastning: Skyfields
Greydisc Records

If Skyfields invites comparison to any other Kevin Kastning recording, it's neither the two immediately preceding it, A Far Reflection (with woodwinds player Carl Clements) and Eleven Rooms (with guitarist Mark Wingfield), nor Otherworld, the first Kastning album to feature him playing alone. No, the one to which the closest connection might be drawn is Dark Sonatas, not for reasons of instrumentation (the Elliott Carter-inspired recording was Kastning's third collaboration with Wingfield) but for tone. Consistent with comments by Kastning himself, Skyfields' harmonic palette is generally darker than that of his other releases, and the material on the recording, his twenty-second for Greydisc Records, is often ponderous and liberally sprinkled with empty space.

A few other details about the recording deserve mention. Whereas the typical Kastning recording features a generous collection of unrelated individual pieces, Skyfields was conceived as a five-part work and is thus, in essence, a sixty-three-minute single composition. It's also noteworthy that the recording was executed in a single take, Kastning resisting the urge to redo certain parts and favouring instead the warts-and-all authenticity of the initial run-through. Interesting too is that while the instruments used on the recording, the 36-string Double Contraguitar and 15-string Extended Classical guitar, have been wielded by Kastning before, all but one of the piece's five parts were performed using the 36-string instrument.

As mentioned, it's Skyfields' darker tonal palette that gives the recording its greatest distinguishing character. An almost forlorn mood establishes itself during the opening part as the guitarist voices the thematic material at the outset before exploring the related pathways extending naturally out of it. Yet no matter how far such explorations take Kastning away from the material's beginnings, the dark tone remains in place and the grounding themes never far away either. Harmonic structures and motifs appear and then re-appear in slightly different guise, episodes mutate between soft and loud, slow passages are followed by rapid flurries, and Kastning moves seamlessly between single-line statements, finger-picking, strums, and chiming chords. A little bit of extra air enters into the third part when the 15-string guitar is used without betraying the overall spacious spirit of the project in the process.

As the recording advances, the listener comes to feel as if he/she is being granted access to the real-time thought processes and decison-making of Kastning as he executes the material live, and in eschewing the song structure conventions associated with a short piece, Skyfields, more so perhaps than any of his other recent recordings, assumes the character of a meditation.

May 2016