Kevin Kastning & Carl Clements: A Far Reflection
Greydisc Records

Kevin Kastning & Mark Wingfield: Eleven Rooms
Greydisc Records

Mere months after the release of his first solo album Otherworld, Kevin Kastning reunites with collaborators of long standing on two new collections. They're both high-quality affairs that enhance the considerable discography the acoustic guitarist has amassed since he began releasing music in 1988.

The set with electric guitarist Mark Wingfield (the duo's fifth release on Greydisc) is especially interesting for the approach adopted, with the two drawing for inspiration from the paintings of Johannes Vermeer for most of the album's eleven pieces. Kastning and Wingfield positioned prints of the Dutch artist's paintings in front of them as they recorded, the idea being to transmute his renowned handling of light and colour into musical form. Though some listeners might have preferred otherwise, I'm pleased that the titles of the paintings used for the tracks aren't identified; had they been so, the temptation to look for ties between a particular image's content and the related musical work would have been perhaps too strong to resist. As it is, the connection is present but more as an allusion, and consequently one's focus isn't hijacked by the album concept. Consistent with that notion, the cover shows but a tiny detail from the artist's Girl Interrupted at Her Music, leaving the listener to imagine the original in its entirety.

All of the material was recorded live sans overdubs in July 2014, with Wingfield playing electric and Kastning 36-string Double Contraguitar, 30-string Contra-Soprano guitar, classical guitar, and mandolin. The combination makes for an effective contrast, the electric acting as the common thread and the acoustic instruments providing changing colour from one track to the next. An explorative sensibility is in place from the outset, with the two weaving intricate lines in amongst one another and responding in the moment to the other. Both players possess distinctive sounds: notes regularly bend and liquefy in Wingfield's hands, the outcome at times similar to that of a guitar synthesizer; Kastning, by comparison, complements the electric with strummed, picked, and plucked webs of crystalline clarity.

Moods vary from the mysterious to the contemplative, and track times vary also, from as little as two all the way up to fifteen minutes. Interestingly, the most striking settings turn out to be the quieter ones, be it “The Slumber” (one of two tracks featuring mandolin) or “A Balance in Light I,” a delicately rendered exercise in meditative melancholia featuring Kastning on six-string classical guitar. Describing the musicians' approach as painterly is too easy yet not off-the-mark. Just as it is in a visual work, texture, colour, and value are central to the players' shared undertaking, and the seventy-minute recording is a document of two seasoned and gifted instrumentalists enjoying the company of one another.

No unusual concept drives A Far Reflection, Kastning's fourth Greydisc release with woodwinds player Carl Clements, but the result hardly suffers for its absence. The impression created is of two long-time friends coming together after a couple of years for the pure pleasure of creating music. And unlike the Wingfield set, the Clements release sees both participants playing a variety of instruments. Such change-ups add significantly to the album's effect, especially when a given track's character alters so much depending on whether Clements is playing saxophone (soprano and tenor) or flute (alto and bansuri); for his part, Kastning once again plays 36-string Double Contraguitar and 30-string Contra-Alto guitar, though in this case replaces the other album's classical guitar and mandolin with Ebow (on one track only, however).

Recorded on two days in 2013 and 2014, the seventy-one-minute collection takes flight with a prototypical flight of fancy, “Should Not the Ancient,” wherein Kastning's 36-string Double Contraguitar nicely meshes with Clements' sinuous soprano. “Pretext and Figures” and “Solves Into Zero” prove memorable for the way the partners blend rapid unison playing and call-and-response expressions, with the dark timbres of the alto flute an ear-catching contrast to the chiming textures of the guitar. Even more arresting are the two pieces on which the Bansuri flute appears for the ancient character they add to the material; both “A Misted Gaze Within” and “Into the Early” sound like they could have been brought into being three hundred years back as much as a few years ago. Contemplative, meandering reveries such as “An Open Window of the Past” and “Surrendering Realms of a Near Presence” rub shoulders with pieces of a more animated disposition (e.g., “From a Falling Gesture”) on this excellent meeting of the spirits, and the two players are in suitably fine form throughout. Whether armed with a concept or not, Kastning's recordings, these two perfect examples, always reward one's time and attention.

March 2016