Piano I: Reviews and Quotes

Talk about stepping outside your comfort zone! Here we find the undisputed king of progressive guitar from design to playing stepping off with his first solo piano date. From graphics to playing, it's very much in the mold of uber classic ECM, back when Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea often sounded scary. With sturm and drang classical overtones running through it, we're probably at the start of a journey into finding out there's nothing Kastning can't do.
(Greydisc 3547)

-- Midwest Record  (US)
   February 2019

Kevin Kastning
Piano I


Although he is renowned for his expertise as a guitarist, composer, recording artist and designer of the most unique carbon fibre guitars on the planet, Kevin Kastning proves his worth once again, this time as an improvisational pianist on, Piano I, his sixth solo album for Greydisc Records. Throughout the 9 track Piano I, Kevin lives up to his reputation as one of the most ingenious American talents on the 21st century worldwide musical scene. Throughout his various albums, many recorded with his talented friends, like Michael Manring, Carl Clements, Sandor Szabo and Mark Wingfield, Kevin has always made recording quality music his top priority. Although he has featured his recorded piano sound on earlier Greydisc albums, including The Book Of Crossings (2012), A Connection Of Secrets (2017) and in 2018 on the Ethereal I album with Sándor Szabó, Kevin’s first completely solo piano album has his trademark sound all over it. Long time followers of his recording style and musical vision will easily detect Piano I as clearly being an album very much true to Kevin's own style and influences. Speaking to mwe3.com about Piano I, the artist explains, “The pieces on Piano I were all improvised, all first-take recordings. I had an overall compositional concept and direction in mind for the album, and constructed the pieces to fit into that.” Kevin has clearly earned his standing among the most unique modern-day American musical improvisers and Piano I album also makes a strong statement of appreciation for the great pioneering composers of the past. Regarding that last statement he explains, “The composers by which I’ve been influenced for keyboard works would be quite a long list. Bach, Schoenberg, and Bartok are the first that immediately come to mind, but are certainly only the tip of that iceberg. Keith Jarrett’s solo works have had a massive, tremendous impact on me for sure, but far more on the guitar side of things than the piano side. I am not trying to rethink classical music… I just recorded a few piano pieces.” With its steady flow of convincing and compelling musical ideas, all expressed by a singular artist performing solo on the stately piano, Piano I takes Kevin Kastnings’s career in a new and exciting musical direction.

-- Music Web Express (US)
   March 2019

Piano I signals a change of instrument for Kevin Kastning, perhaps better known for his more recent compositions using the 36-string Double Contraguitar and 30-string Contra-alto, as well as his previous albums with Sandor Szabo and Balázs Major, Kismaros and Ethereal II.
As with all of his compositions they are vastly different, challenging, almost confrontational, saying ‘dare you to let me take you to a musical place you have not been to before’. As always, his music is inspirational, strangely comforting, reassuring in its spare and yet complex simplicity.
A composer of classical music, Kastning has worked with, and composed for, many solo and chamber music performers over the years as well as building a firmly established background in Jazz and contemporary classical music, all of which manifest on each of his diverse collections in an ‘avant garde’ style.
Once again, his wonderful mastery of improv makes each one of his pieces unique, pushing the defined boundaries of what consists of classical music.
Having his more recent album Ethereal II compared to a high level of improv similar to that of Jazz musicians being in the moment, the vibe, this comparison holds true for this new work, Piano I which can also be compared to a very, almost transcendental level of pure music, pure sound.
The sound is adventurous, a man at one with the piano, allowing the spirit that is there to be recorded, to come into being, there to be enjoyed. Consisting of three Constructions, a Component and an Element, the work is linear, progressing from one stage to another in regulated order, placed in a controlled and definitive order.
Although piano is not a new element to Kastning, recording a solo album on this instrument certainly is a new direction, which will be interesting to see where it leads to in the future.

-- Blue Wolf Reviews (AUSTRALIA)
   April 2019

Kevin Kastning — Piano I
(Greydisc GDR3547, 2019, CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2019-03-29
Piano I Cover art

Kastning has played piano on many of his albums to date, mostly on collaborations where someone is playing guitar, but for his sixth solo album, he has crafted nine pieces – over an hour’s worth – exclusively for piano. Hint: Kastning’s piano compositions sound a lot like his guitar compositions, but he’s worked the ideas out for piano instead. Drop the needle on any track and it won’t take more that a few measures to recognize that what’s being played comes from the same wellspring of ideas that his guitar albums do, with a sense of unpredictable randomness and mystery about them, but delivered in a dreamy, gentle and superbly sublime way, with all the dreamy atmospherics of his guitar albums, but only with piano. Many artists take on a different persona when they switch to different instruments, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The nine tracks are presented in five groups: “Construction 1” has parts a, b, and c, and a listener might not even notice the change between the parts unless looking at the track counter from the corner of your eye, the peaceful and idyllic emotional aura from one section continues right into the next. “Construction 2 (a, b)” and “Construction 3 (a, b)” similarly have two sections each, a similar style, but they move the spirit in slightly different ways – as a reviewer I don’t want to dissect the compositions and take the discovery and mystery away from the listener, nor could I really, but the mood of each evokes a very different feeling than the first three-part piece. As with his many guitar albums, here, the piano becomes an emotional extension of his soul, moving freely like the winds of his consciousness. The two closing opuses bear different titles: “Component Factor I” and “Element Sector I” (which I guess means part II of both may be coming on some future release). The former seems to include some ideas explored in the “Construction” parts but explored in different ways, perhaps taking a more sparse approach, while the latter seems to document an open-ended journey with numerous melodic sidetracks that never seem to bring the listener back to a starting point, which is totally okay in my book. The entire album makes for some great repeat listening.

-- Exposé Magazine (US)
   April 2019

Kastning, Kevin: Piano I

Hard working guitarist Kevin Kastning is no stranger to the recording studio as his output has been extremely steady over the years. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Kastning is the inventor of the 36-string Double Contraguitar and 30-string Contra-Alto guitar. His music takes an experimental approach, very eclectic and ethereal and if you enjoy music on the ambient side of the spectrum I would urge you check out his work.

His new disc is a little different, not so much in style of composition but in the fact there is no acoustic guitar. Kastning has been with the Greydisc label for six recordings and this is the first to feature only piano. As with his guitar albums the music exudes atmosphere and moodiness, his piano providing slow moving textures and mostly gently played notes. For contrast, Kastning does use the lower keys well creating more diverse moods . This is a stark album with the tracks flowing seamlessly together. Talking about individual tracks is rather pointless in my estimation due to the blending of sounds. This is one of those albums that needs to be listened to with complete quiet, allowing your mind to be clear of thought. This is about as contemplative and meditative music can get so if you want to be relaxed give Piano I a try.

-- Sea of Tranquility Magazine (US)
   April 2019

I discovered the musicians talents of KEVIN KASTNING thanks to his previous solo album "30/36". However, in addition to being a guitar master, he also plays mandolin and bass, and here he presents his first album as a pianist. After having participated in some forty albums spread over thirty years as a guitarist, he now adds 230 strings to his melodic bow. Indeed, on average, a piano has 230 strings that are associated with 88 keys on the keyboard. Listening to the simply named "Piano 1", it is quite obvious that he is also a composer of modern classical music. The musician also emphasizes that pianists like BACH, BARTOK or SCHOENBERG have had an influence on his playing. The other influence that can be noted is that of pianists like Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea while they recorded for the record company ECM, in particular, and produced albums that plunged into singular atmospheres, at the limit a little scary at times. This is how some pieces emit an aura of mystery, while others evoke the vast spaces a little austere in the image of the cover elsewhere. However, even if he uses a different instrument and the guitar is totally absent, I felt and heard a way to approach the music. In his approach, he lets it breathe if I can say. The notes have their importance and their place. His long-time friend and collaborator, and produced albums that plunged into singular atmospheres, at the limit a little distressing at times. This is how some pieces emit an aura of mystery, while others evoke the vast spaces a little austere in the image of the cover elsewhere. However, even if he uses a different instrument and the guitar is totally absent, I felt and heard a way to approach the music. In his approach, he lets it breathe if I can say. The notes have their importance and their place. His long-time friend and collaborator, and produced albums that plunged into singular atmospheres, at the limit a little distressing at times. This is how some pieces emit an aura of mystery, while others evoke the vast spaces a little austere in the image of the cover elsewhere. However, even if he uses a different instrument and the guitar is totally absent, I felt and heard a way to approach the music. In his approach, he lets it breathe if I can say. The notes have their importance and their place even if he uses a different instrument and the guitar is totally absent, His long-time friend and collaborator, Sándor Szabó, writing this about his piano approach, "When he showed me his piano pieces, I thought of an alchemist who started secretly distilling something special from a very liquid mixture. dense and complex. Finally, the result is a thin volatile material, never seen before, which floats slightly and shines through the test tube. "

Beyond the fact of recording a solo piano album when he is first guitarist, what is particularly amazing is that the pieces selected for "Piano 1" are improvised in the studio and are first taken. Nevertheless, he specifies that he had a global concept for the compositions and a direction in mind for the album, and that he built the pieces to adapt them to this album. The musical result is sometimes adventurous but without plunging into an unbridled or inaccessible complexity, on the contrary the listening is eminently pleasant. The album evokes as much the classical universe as that of the jazz or even of the ambient music but played on the piano. If "Piano 1" can hardly be called progressive rock, I sincerely believe that it can please fans of the genre. This was my case.

-- Profil Prog Magazine (CANADA)
   May 2019

Kevin Kastning: Piano I
Greydisc Records

Though Kevin Kastning's issued a large number of solo and duo recordings, his latest albums' unexpected creative moves catch the listener by surprise. He's long been known for recordings featuring him playing incredible custom-designed guitars, such as the 36-string Double Contraguitar, 30-string Contra-Alto guitar, and 15-string Extended Classical guitar, but on the prosaically titled Piano I he sets them aside for a recording wholly devoted to the keyboard. While it's not the first time piano's appeared on a Kastning release—it's on his 2017 solo set A Connection of Secrets, for example, alongside his customary guitars, and it also surfaces on Ethereal I, his 2017 recording with Sándor Szabó and otherwise featuring the duo's guitars—it is the first time it's been featured as the sole instrument. Five works are presented on the sixty-four-minute release, three of them multi-part.

Perhaps the first thing the longtime Kastning listener will notice is how indelibly his artistic identity has stamped itself on the material, the realization quickly setting in that his voice invariably emerges regardless of the instrument involved. In fact, so distinctive is the style that's crystallized over the course of his recording career, one imagines an album featuring him playing ocarina would produce the same effect. Kastning's note that he “constructed the pieces to fit into” the overall concept for the project helps explain the reason for the titles used for much of the album, with the first of three Construction works, for instance, presented as “Construction 1a,” “Construction 1b,” and “Construction 1c.” Bach, Schoenberg, and Bartok are cited as a representative sampling of influences on these keyboard works, and Keith Jarrett too, though the latter's impact has been, according to Kastning, more on the guitar than piano side. Yet while that might be the case, the album's uncluttered, explorative improvisations reflect his sensibility through and through.

Similar to his playing on the guitar, these improvised, first-take piano recordings eschew regulated metre, and, being neither wholly jazz or classical, defy categorization. In simplest terms, they're pensive, real-time meditations that document a sensibility naturally disposed to searching and being receptive to wherever the muse leads. Though certain pieces stand out for one reason or another (the wistful ruminations of “Construction 2a” make a strong impression, for example), Piano I is best experienced as a cumulative statement, the nine settings more noteworthy for the collective impact they make.

- Textura Magazine (CANADA)
  May 2019


"Many thanks for your latest. Of course the music — and the typically high level of production — are the standout qualities to “Piano 1.” One thing I noticed first and foremost was the similarity between your piano playing and the way you sound on guitar. It is definitely the same artist, which is a testament to how, even if you were playing a slide whistle, it would still sound like Kevin. Your musical identity is that strong, in much the same way Clark Terry’s singing informs his trumpet playing and vice versa. That alone puts you in a pretty unique (and elite) class.

So… thanks again for the music. I’m enjoying “Piano 1.” Will there be a “Piano 2”?"

-- Mike Metheny (US)


"Hi Kevin,
Congrats to the new album, it is a great one!
I personally like the sound of acoustic piano a lot, it is soothing for me and simply wonderful.

What stood out to me as a really unique and recognizable feature were these wonderful dense chord clusters on "construction 3B", extremely nice!!"

-- Dieter Kaudel (US)
   K&K Pickups

"Obviously, there is absolutely nothing derivative in Piano I, and you are not evoking bird songs for the most part, but there is a spiritual link to that solo piano album because it takes heart goes to a similar place. I used to listen to that Messiaen album on vinyl often, and have given it as a gift. I just experienced the illusion of silence between tracks on Piano I and that, my friend, is remarkable. No thought crowded my mind for that wonderful moment.

The attack on this piano work is certainly different, but your composer’s voice is clear and very strong from this other angle. But I want to reach a place tonight of simple feeling and no thought. I am tired of thinking, being outraged by the news, planning the day, all of that. For a break from that world, I choose to be transported to your album. 

I find in all of your work the holy perspective of “The Seeker.” The music is just ahead of you, and you seek to catch up while it changes. You play an echo of the music that Great Holy Algorhythm.

I believe you play the music you hear just after it has formed in your mind, as did Charles Ives. Ives criticized those who allowed the instrument to have undue influence on the composition. He wrote some of his music on his shirt collars while riding home from work at the insurance company. What a concept is that music that he and you transcribe from the music hall in your mind! Who is the soloist there? I suspect your experience of the music you are hearing as you compose does not feel like a creation of your own thought. After all, Mark Strand was right: “We are reading the story of our lives as though we were writing it.”

One deep affect of your music has been that I feel closer to you than perhaps any other person on earth from time to time. I am, after all, creating your music with you when I listen to you play. In physical reality, we are a poor flawed approximation of who we are in music.

This is all leading to something, but I don’t know where it is going. It seems good. In that, it is an analog for all of your music. In that, it is an analog for ALL music.

You are part of my spiritual life, if I can say that with the meaning Baruch Spinoza might assign to those words. In your silences, you remind me of Wittgenstein. Didn’t he say, “That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.”

Yeah, but we are not silent. Sam Beckett knew that. “The end is in the beginning, and yet you go on.” And so it goes.

My world would be greatly altered without you in it.

For what it’s worth, I am less distracted by technique in your piano works. You have, obviously, less control over the color of the sound, but the listener may confront the notes and relationships more simply in the piano music. The two together are magic. They are “Two Looks at the Child Kastning.”

- Billy Sheppard  (MEXICO/US)
  Music Without Borders