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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Balazs Major & Kevin Kastning - Kismaros [Greydisc - 2018]

Hungarian percussionist Balazs Major has teamed up with guitarist and instrument inventor Kevin Kastning to create their first collaborative album of free improvisation, titled Kismaros, released last year in 2018 on Greydisc.  The liner notes state that it includes a 30 string Contra-Alto guitar, immediately making me curious about the timbres to be heard within.  I am wholly unfamiliar with the previous works of both musicians.

The first sound I hear is a tapping of cymbals, a delicate and precise rhythmic pattern in crisp, intimate clarity, dancing lightly through volleys of rapid staccato.  When the guitar joins, it is a loose, drifting presence, contributing a whimsical, trailing chord here and there at the odd interval, almost seeming to ignore the rhythmic pulse beneath.  Kastning continues in this sleepy, restrained style for much of the remainder of the album, tending to wait for several seconds between chords in Morton Feldman-esque fashion.

It would not be immediately apparent to me that the guitar used has 30 strings, as they are never strummed all at once, as far as I can tell.  I do see why it is called a 'contra-alto' guitar, however, as its tone is uncommonly bright, clean and sweet.  The harmonic structure of each chord played is perfectly transparent, the higher pitched strings taking on an almost celestial affect similar to a harp.  The instrument can also growl in deep lower registers as well, and while it doesn't actually have a great deal of bass frequency energy, there is a satisfying grit to the percussive plucks of these lower strings.  At times the tone is similar to the "Warr Guitars" used by Colin Marston / Behold the Arctopus.  With an almost supernatural luminescence, it sounds lovely.

The production on this album is astonishingly clear and immediate, the finest details of each timbre clearly audible.  The timbres are deep and ear pleasing.  This is important, as the album is essentially a vehicle for novel instrument tones to be heard.

Balasz' role seems to be sketching faint hints of rhythms, generally even more nebulous and understated than in the first piece.  Cymbals remain his primary voice, and he seems to possess a wide variety of metals, creating a subtle world of expression in their slight tonal contrasts and dynamic ebb and flow.  There are occasional hits from much deeper drums with rounded skin tones, but used only very sparingly, so that no real rhythmic stability ever forms.

I find myself loving the textures of all the instruments played here, from Balasz' varied and exotic percussion to Kastning's luminous guitar.  However, my love for this recording ends there, as it is an incredibly slow paced, aimless feeling recording, in which each noodling fragment of chord work or implied rhythm dissipates into emptiness within 10 seconds or less.  Balasz Major settles into a syncopated pulse on occasion, but Kastning will often seem to ignore or play counter to this pulse, and I just don't feel the level of close interconnectedness in their playing that I look for in free jazz.  Each tiny idea has been left adrift in a lazy sea, unconnected to others.  As such, the album may be relaxing, but certainly not engaging.  In fact, it is actively difficult to remain focused upon.  Here's hoping we can hear these beautiful instruments utilized in some more coherent music at some point.

Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5

Josh Landry
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