Brian Kastan-Fretless Bass, Ryan Berg-Upright Bass, Mike Pride-Drums
“Heritage Trail” bring the glory of new pathways straight into your living room… the only way to truly absorb what the trio is doing, though, is to kick back with a long-neck (or a toilet-paper-roll bong of your favorite thang) with your headphones on. At about the 3:12 mark on this piece, you’ll hear some fantastic “coloring” from Mike’s drums… great interplay between the drums, bass and fretless, where their explorations seem to emerge as one!
Brian told me that the double album was recorded in only one day, which is amazing in itself… as you listen to the languid pacing on the totally engaging “Stairway to Heaven Trail“, you will feel the energy that emanates from a simple walk through the positive energy and beauty of nature’s creations.
Your aural appendages won’t believe the beauty of the weave achieved on “Sterling Forest Loop“… it’s a “simple” sequence, but abounds with the kind of clarity you only find when the players are “in touch” with each other’s vision of the music… this is one of the best performances I’ve heard (yet) in 2021!
It was one of the longer performances that I enjoyed so much that it was a “natural” for my choice as personal favorite of the thirteen (long) songs Brian and his crew offer up for our sonic enlightenment… “Ramapo Dunderber Trail” is located next to a lake near Tuxedo Park, New York, and the 9:25 length of the piece gives each player a chance to express the sheer joy of being at one with the surroundings. The interplay between Brian’s fretless action and Ryan’s upright is totally enchanting, and (again) brings all the beauty of fresh air and sunlight right into your listening room.
Brian Kastan-Fretless Bass, Eric person-Sax, Bob Meyer-Drums
The pacing and playing on this marvelous set is totally different from anything I’ve ever heard him do, and certainly different from when I reviewed his deliciously dastardly “Music You’ll Probably Hate” album last spring… on songs like the 6:21 “Sandstone Canyon“, you’ll feel like you’re on an adventure through endless gullys and gorges… delightfully trudging through the tumbleweed into totally new vistas!
Brian’s fretless bass intro, together with Bob’s drum work setup “Red Rocks” for a shimmering saxophone solo from Eric… there’s nothing “frenetic” here, it’s all a tasty trek through sonic wonders that you’ve never before encountered.
Eric’s sax takes the lead during the intro to “Bowling Rocks“, with penetrating (yet somehow subtle) undercurrents of ecstasy guiding you on your journey… I have a feeling this tune will be added to DJ playlists far and wide over the coming months!
I had absolutely no doubt after my first listen through this 54:16 gem what my choice for personal favorite of the dozen delightful tracks would be… an absolute scorcher by the end of the tune, the 4:08 “Chimney Mountain” starts off with a slow-walk fretless bass solo from Brian, but quickly morphs into a rip-roaring improv that will quench your thirst for “different” (in many different ways)… this is THE BEST trio improv I’ve heard (yet) in 2021.
I give this marvelous trio a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with a (perfect) “EQ” (energy quotient) score of 5.00 – meaning that it also gets a “PICK” from me for “best improv trio album”. Get more information on the BandCamp page for the release. Rotcod Zzaj
Avant Trance Dance
December 8, 2020
Label: self released, 2020
Personnel - Brian Kasten: electric guitar, electric fretless bass; Peter O’Brien: drums.
Brian Kastan is a New York-based experimental bassist and guitarist, who is found here in a combustible duo collaboration with New York drummer Peter O’Brien. Kastan, who plays bass and guitar simultaneously through a bass looper pedal, employs his own hybrid-finger technique, discharging substantial amounts of energy over viscously dripping grooves.
On the opener, “Continuum Vibe”, they favor a non-stopping pour of power in a frenetic machination that includes stridently noisy funk chops as a key ingredient in an alternative-rock metabolic process that is both mercurial and hefty.
“My Funky Pussy Cat” has a softer inception, relying on a sort of proto-funk flavored with a bluesy feel. Apparently more structured, the piece doesn’t take long to be deconstructed by a raw assault of explosive guitar lines and rough texture. Kastan’s ideas develop at its own pace, often creating an interesting polyrhythmic effect with O’Brien dynamics.
“For The Love of Black Sabbath” showcases the duo’s appreciation for the English metal band referred in the title. The four-bar cycle at the base of this improvisation is infused with muscularity and the music reaches acid-rock proportions.
The longest pieces on the album are the most gripping. “Soul Reveal” is set to slower speeds, having its mood carefully worked with wah-wah and other psychedelic effects. The guitarist’s shouts and cries find O’Brien’s proficient drumming filled with timely cymbal crashes. The latter’s awareness of form, in addition to his musical adaptability, is quite impressive, and after a period of time, there are playful, agitated spasms that lead to a final delirium. And the record concludes with the nearly 19-minute trip “Avant Trance Dance 2” whose title doesn’t lie. With influences of electronic music, experimental rock and free jazz, it’s like having Sonny Sharrock probing noise-punk and Jimi Hendrix diving into in a neurotic post-hardcore dance. The duo speak out their ideas and their communication is on the edge through exciting drum patterns, drone-oriented bass fluxes and guitar noise.
Systematically embracing dissonance and abstraction, this program might feel quite intense for some listeners, but it is well worth it.
For this single track, guitarist Brian Kastan plays two parts of a trio with drummer Peter O’Brien, supplying electric bass and guitar on a tune that is part John Scofield, Keith Richards and a dash of Robert Fripp.
The just under five minute white knuckler starts with a quacking wacka-wooka of a bass line, pulsating with O’Brien’s crisp but jagged pulse before guitar jabs like Floyd Merriweather rock and tumble, building up fire and heat as the three wrestle to a jarring and intensely tensile climax. The music feels live and spontaneous, but it never loses direction or purpose, feeling like a mix of a jam session and musical debate. Lots of fun in this musical arm wrestling match!
Music you will Probably Hate
Delicious dastardly dichotomous music Brian Kastan, Travis Sullivan, Dave Berger, Danny Zanker – MUSIC YOU’LL PROBABLY HATE: Two sides of the coin on this terrific new release – Love and Hate, lol… to get your reading on which it is for you, please watch this video of this delicious & dastardly krew (less the bass player, Danny Zanker) together first…
My most recent review of Brian’s work features a different group on his “New Music for an Old Soul” release… the players on this new one are Brian Kastan – Guitar, Travis Sullivan – Sax, Dave Berger-Drums, Danny Zanker – Bass, and they KICK it LOOSE on this album… you’ll immediately be inspired to (either) love or hate songs like “You’ll Probably Hate This One Too“… DJ’s are gonna’ love this tune, too, as the playtime is only 2:14… it kinda’ reminds me of some of the work that Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart did together… a GREAT tune!
Brian’s guitar leads on “You May Like The First Part, but You’ll Hate the 2nd Part” will grab hold of your ears, shake your head around a little bit & make sure there’s no “loose change” in there… what’s most noticeable on this improvisation is how “tight” the players are together… my friend Bret Harold Hart would just LOVE this deliciously dastardly assemblage.
Improvised music is best when there’s no “declared direction” before the players start, and the 4:35 “I Don’t Have a Title Yet” makes it quite clear that the quartet just “moved” with the flow with no particular road map in mind… be sure you listen to this track with your HEADPHONES on (at least for your first sitting).
It was the gentle and melodic interaction between the bass, drums and sax on the 6:32 closer, “Danny Has Something to Say“, that made it my choice for personal favorite of the nine (long) performances offered up; Brian’s guitar slips & slides in, ’round and through very nicely, too!
I give Brian, Travis, Dave and Danny a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) score of 4.99 for this excellent improvised adventure. Get more information (and purchase the album) on the BandCamp
New Music for an Old Soul
One of the songs on the album that had me tappin’ my “odd-ist” toes is “Bicyclic”… the tune starts off with some great harmonic changes from both Brian’s guitar and Steve’s bass/effects… again, if you’re as dedicated a fan of improvised music, this will warm the cockles of yo’ lil’ heart!
The 3:30 “The Nutmeg of Consolation” is in true artistry mode… there’s no rushing between the duo, and every single note will lead you somewhere other than where you thought it was going… laid-back & full of overtones, this tune is a solid winner.
You’ll hear a vibe that you might not have expected as you listen to “Brother of the Black Dirt”… horses cantering across the graveyard in perfect synch with the universe… the interplay between the bass and guitar is absolutely amazing!
Brian told me (in private messages) that the whole album “tells a story, from sad to wild“, and as you listen to my personal favorite track of the fifteen offered up, you’ll understand why he said that… the opener, “Antipode” (dictionary defined as “the direct opposite of something else”), may short-circuit you a bit, but in the end-run, it’s an improvisor’s dream… I just loved this piece.
I give Steve and Brian a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) score of 4.99 for this sweet improvised session
Wild crazy innovative improv Travis Sullivan, Brian Kastan, Dave Berger – VOLCANO RIDER: When your life is as full of music (of all types) as mine is, it’s easy sometimes to begin thinking you’ve heard it all… well, nothing could be further from reality… & when my friend Brian Kastan sent me this one, as soon as I popped it in the player, I knew it was going to take me (& my ears) “out there“… what you’ll hear is Travis Sullivan on alto sax, Brian Kastan doing electric guitar and bass and Dave Berger on drums – and it’s certainly one of the most wild, crazy & innovative improv sessions I’ve listened to (yet) in 2019. To get the full effect of what these improv wizards are doing together, scope out the video they produced for the release first…
…as you can see/hear, thesw cats just SOAR together… since you’re there already, be sure to SUBSCRIBE to Brian’s YouTube channel, where you’ll find many more earth-shattering jam – I did.
As you listen to the album, you’ll realize you’re in the presence of (pure & raw) genius… they just CUT it LOOSE on tunes like “Bubinga’s Theme“… I’ve no doubt you’ll be thinking of players like Shorter, Zappa & Cobham as you enjoy this 3:55 gem… I can (easily) see this tune getting some MASSIVE airplay on indie & alternative stations ’round the globe!
Brian’s bass intro on the closer, “Birth of the Volcano Rider (Monday Morning, No Coffee)” is perfect as a lead-in to the shimmering vibrancy the trio creates on this piece… some of the best improvised performance you’ll ever listen to.
You may find yourself lulled into thinking that the laid-back introduction to the opening track, “Just When You Think Everything is Cool“, means that the tune is “just jazz”, but at the 1:12 mark, the trio begins to KRANK it out, taking you all the way to the OTHER side of the wormhole… it’s definitely my personal favorite of the seven songs offered up for your aural pleasure!
I give Travis, Brian & Dave a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) score of 4.99 for this superb trek into the innards of improv. Get more information on Brian’s ARCHIVE.org site. Rotcod Zzaj
From Space to Groove
Outer limits voided and reborn Brian Kastan – FROM SPACE TO GROOVE: Ever since I reviewed Brian’s “Roll The Dice On Life“, it was evident to me that his music is able to communicate with the spirits of folks like Sun Ra and Uncle Frank (Frank Zappa, for the uninitiated)… if you’re an M.O.R. (Middle Of the Road) listener, you won’t “get” those references… BUT, if that were the case, you wouldn’t be here in the first place, where we aren’t afraid to “explore”… George Dulin does some most memorable keyboards against Brian Kastan on bass (ah, that’s right – BASS), with Yutaka Uchida doing drums… you’ll hear their madness on improvised tunes like the title track, “From Space To Groove“, and if you’re as passionate as I am about pushing the limits, you’ll ride the wormholes they’re exploring with ecstatic glee… Brian on bass is truly something to behold, and both he and George CRAM this song so full of notes that you won’t know where the space stops and the groove begins… +, the drums just KICK IT! I just LOVE this tune (in part because it reminds me of some of the improv jams I used to do with cats like Davey Williams)… a SUPER jam! The official release date is 9 October, 2018.
I can absolutely guarantee that you’ve never heard “Stella By Starlight” in the mode that these guys perform it… George’s keyboard takes the whole sonic experience to galactic dimensions, with Brian slow-walking that bass to the “other side” of the Milky Way… sheer jazz beauty from out there… “jazz with jade”.
There’s some ultra-groove action going on with the keyboard on “The Happy Song“, one of the shorter tunes on the album… George swirls that electric piano sound all the way to the other side of Nirvana, with Brian and Yutaka providing solid rhythmic counter-punches throughout… a WONDERFUL sonic experience!
There was NO DOUBT in my mind what my choice for personal favorite would be… “Realizing Doom” has some of the best improvised action I’ve ever heard (& that’s truly saying something, because I’ve heard & played a LOT)… I especially loved the sequences at about the 4:10 mark, when the keyboard rolls in along with the bass and drums… despite the title, this piece actually gives a sense of hope for the discoveries we can make – if we just LISTEN!
I give Brian and his players a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99 for this extremely entertaining musical adventure. Get more information as it becomes available on Brian’s website. Rotcod Zzaj
Brian Kastan-guitar, Christopher Dean Sullivan- bass,Karl Latham-drums,
Thread is the new album of powerful free improvisation from the collective of drummer Karl Latham, guitarist Brian Kastan and veteran bassist Christopher Dean Sullivan. The discs document a complete two days of music resulting in a whopping two and a half hours of improvisation from a blank slate, traversing a variety of moods and elated peaks. The collective invites the listener on their journey of discovery into the unknown with successful results. Further, the album is Kastan’s 12th album charting new growth for the guitarist who has been making albums since 2008. 2016’s release Roll The Dice On Life, was a quirky treat that seemingly came out of nowhere insured that listeners open to his very dynamic concept pay attention to future releases, would remember his name. Last year’s Not So Standard did just that with absolutely bizarre, humorous treatments of extremely fossilized material from the jazz canon.
The album title speaks to the collective’s modus operandi of following up on and expanding the various musical situations that pop up out of the ether, and the shapes the 11 improvisations morph into. Some of the improvisations, like “Seeking” and “Samadhi” run about a half hour each, truly affording the trio to expand on them at their leisure. On disc 1’s “Mantra”, Sullivan’s slowly circling bass vamp, prompts him to exclaim “Now, play it!” and Kastan obliges with an open chord that seems to hang in the air with a Frissellian decay. Kastan prods, inspects and scrutinizes the unfolding events with a warm, crunchy tone, reacting to and pulling against Latham’s activity. Latham and Kastan have a wonderful hook up and consistently inspire each other on the album. A great example of their ingenuity is on “Seeking” where Latham’s New Orleans second line beat prompts the guitarist’s warped, mutated chicken motif . Latham’s deep pocket swing launches the guitarist into a clever quote of “Nardis”, and he dives into some swing of his own, and even drops a bit of hillbilly influence as a response to Sullivan’s ambling bass. A variation of the mutated chicken motif also pops on “Elation” where the drummer’s gongs hint at the the stroke of an individuals enlightenment. Sullivan gets the lions share of disc 2’s “Seeking” with careful reflections, torrential coin on rooftop streams of notes agile glissandos, portamentos, and a beautiful rounded tone hinting at Wilbur Ware, Charlie Haden and Jimmy Garrison. Contrasting with the album’s moments of pile driving intensity during the lengthy numbers are the beautiful multi-hued sunrise of “Elevation” and the meditation, “Unity”.
“Thread” is a recording showing the collective trio of Karl Latham, Brian Kastan and Christopher Dean Sullivan demonstrating exactly why free improvisation can be one of the most exciting genres around through their deep listening, and commitment to using a broad range of instrumental colors across a broad canvas. The album further displays Kastan’s very individual sound and begs the question of why is he not better known. This is a fine trio, and future chapters would indeed be fascinating.
Rating: 8.5/10 .
Thread stellar otherworldly improvised trios Thread – KARL LATHAM, BRIAN KASTAN, CHRISTOPER DEAN SULLIVAN: When I say “otherworldly”, that’s literal… my friend Brian told me (in private conversation) that Thread must’ve “summoned the dead to be alive“, & I certainly believe that… ghosts of FZ (Frank Zappa), Sonny Sharrock & all those cats come to mind (no KIDDING), but the trio’s music also has shades of some of my other guitar heroes, too, which I’ll delve into a bit later in this narrative… right now, I want you to watch the only (current) video available (it’s Brian with drummer Karl Latham, which is light one member – Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass)… a full 30-minute improvised set that will get your head ready for the double album Thread is soon to release (when Brian tells me the samples are ready, I’ll come back & add them in)…
…now, if you’re a “middle-of-the-roader“, you probably won’t understand that video… but, for those of us who “get” improv, it’s kinda’ like mutant musical DNA… a bit “fractured“, but totally exciting because of it’s freshness, the immediacy of the moment and the new directions it will take your mind in!
Regular readers here will know that I’ve already been “hex-posed” to Brian’s stellar works, and written extensively about them, most recently in my review of his “Not So Standard” album… allusions were made to “wormholes” in that review, but I can tell you right now that as you listen to the sheer rumbling beauty on “Searching”, you’ll realize that Thread have “been to the very top of the black hole”, and are beckoning you towards the realities of tomorrow… Christopher’s bass solo work and Karl’s drums are certainly the most exciting I’ve heard (yet) in 20:18 on this amazing 7:58 tune…
“Samadhi” is defined as “a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation“, and within the first thirty seconds of this deeply moving 29:40 excursion, you’ll realize that if you weren’t at the final stages yet – you are now! Brian’s fantastic guitar on this one reminds me of another of my improvised guitar heroes… my friend Davey Williams (who I’ve played my own improvised sets with many moons ago) would surely approve of the trio’s intergalactic jaunts on this scorching tune!
It was difficult this time to choose a personal favorite, because each of the eleven (long) improvisations is full of the strands of randomness that make life worth the living… in the end-run, though, it’s the 27:01 “Seeking” that gets my vote… recording on this track is pure perfection, and there’s not one second of “slippage”… seamless playing from the opening note to the very last bar.
Once again, Thread has put together a set of music that not only merits my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, but clearly deserves an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of a (perfect) 5.00… ergo, Thread gets my first 2018 “PICK” for “best otherworldly album”. I can’t give you specific pages to link to for the album, but keep your eyes on Brian’s website to stay up to date on this superbly improvised musical adventure. Rotcod Zzaj
Not So Standard
Brian Kastan: guitar; Miles Griffith: vocal, Steve Rust: electric bass; Peter O'Brien: drums
By CJ SHERN
The standard in jazz has an interesting duality. At once it is the backbone of the jazz repertoire, structures musicians can always call on with certainty that others know the tune. On the flipside, because these tunes are so oft played, it becomes a quest to find new pathways on roads well traveled. Miles Davis did so on the defining series of recordings at Chicago’s Plugged Nickel in December of 1965, taking his well known book and radically deconstructing the tunes with the second great quintet. Keith Jarrett also redefined standards over 30 plus years with the trio featuring Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Gary Thomas offered the stunning “Till We Have Faces” (JMT, 1993) and Hiromi Uehara presented her own take with her Sonicbloom band on “Beyond Standard” (Telarc, 2008) among countless others. Guitarist Brian Kastan offers his rendition, “Not So Standard” featuring the same quartet consisting of vocalist Miles Griffith, bassist Steve Rust, and drummer Peter O'Brien that delivered last year’s wildly original double disc “Roll The Dice On Life” (Kastan Records, 2016) that was truly one of last year’s sleepers.
Kastan is a fascinating multifaceted individual that besides being a guitarist and bassist, has a masters in music and is an award winning photographer. His music thrives on challenge, surprise and a truly in the moment improvisational drive that a Sonny Sharrock aand Cecil Taylor angularity blending slashing, atonal, avant garde soloing with driving grooves. To consider his music jazz, rock, or leaning towards the avant funk side of things isn’t entirely accurate, instead falling somewhere in the middle and his quartet is astonishing in their ability to navigate the micro details of the very specific improvisational nature displayed in the nine selections.
The guitarist’s approach in a sense recalls that of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic system– for example Charlie Haden’s bass lines and associated harmony were dictated by what Coleman played. In the same vein, Kastan’s soloing goes wherever the mood takes him, Rust and O'Brien respond in one mind setting the table for the guitarist’s lines. The quality is exhibited on Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va” as Kastan’s fourth voicings are compacted in jagged sixteenth note shards, while the rhythm section answers with full throttle rubato interplay. Miles Griffith’s utterly unique vocals are another factor making the equation so successful; his Jon Hendricks spiced phrasing and idiosyncratic scatting act as the horn of the group, and the Rust-O'Brien duo are equally sensitive to him as they are Kastan. His vocals on “Beautiful Love” are the closest the album comes to conventional standards, but once his scat soloing begins, which does combine elements of bebop, he takes thrilling left turns going outside, inciting the rhythm section to tumble along with him. On the absolutely twisted take of Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema”, Griffith’s gut busting ad lib “because I am a big, fat boy she don’t see me” in a Jamaican patois is hilarious and adds to the zany fun this unit has casting their stamp on familiar favorites. The tale of longing in “Ipanema” is replaced by a bizarre, surreal narrative that is quite stunning to hear and very enjoyable. A shuffling take of “Doxy” represents Sonny Rollins, but the Rollins ode is even more pronounced in the calypso bounce of the humorous take of “Poor Joe” delightful in it’s inventiveness.
“Not So Standard” is the type of record that keeps jazz moving forward, Brian Kastan is the rare musician with a singular voice, that truly deserves wider recognition. The guitarist would be right at home with another pacesetter, guitarist David Fiuczynski, and fit in with a variety of truly original voices like Cuong Vu or Jamie Saft. Kastan’s new recording is a truly a treasure and best approached with an open mind. The jazz police or any faction holding the standard as sacred would not like this album at all but for those with a taste for adventure, and idiosyncratic playing, it hits the spot.
Rating: 9.5/10 Oct 20th, 2017
Brian Kastan dynamically different jazz rock
Not So Standard
Brian Kastan dynamically different jazz rock Brian Kastan – NOT SO STANDARD: When I first reviewed Brian’s “Roll The Dice On Life” (and gave it a “PICK”, by the way), I had no doubt he would be back with ever-more challenging listens for listeners who have exceeded the boundaries of the wormhole and moved on to dynamically different jazz rock dimensions! As you listen to Brian’s (somewhat twisted) take on the opener, Stevie’s “Higher Ground“, your ears will be in complete ecstasy – unless, of course, you’re one of those (dreaded) “M.O.R.” (middle-of-the-road) listeners, lol… just imagine Stevie on-stage with George Duke, Frank Zappa & the rest of those “mothers”, & you’ll have a pretty clear aural picture of where this tune will take you!
Brian’s exquisite electric/acoustic guitar work is joined on this outing by Miles Griffith’s challenging vocals, Steve Rust’s buoyant bass and Peter O’Brien’s dynamic drum work… they seem to play in “telepathy” mode, each player sensing the “outer limits” of the other(s), as they help you transcend the daily trials & tribs you may have encountered in MugWump! Though the video below isn’t from the current album, it will give you a great feel for the band as they move you away from “the norm” (this “jam mode” is one I used to play in quite frequently)… check them OUT…
Ain’t it amazing what “real” talent and dedication to moving away from the standards can do? I just loved this video, & while some listeners may not get as excited as I do about this kind of music, it’s very refreshing…. but, I digress… the absolute genius on the new album, and my personal favorite of the nine great songs offered up for your jaded aural pleasure, was an easy pick – “Juju” will cast a spell that lasts for all time… it will come on “automatically” on your car player, every time you start the vehicle, & will be your escort into infinity!
I give Brian & his high-talent, high-energy krew a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for this album, with a (perfect) “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 5.00… that means that it gets my “PICK” (again) for “best not standard performances”. Get more information about this fascinating guitartist at Brian’s bio sketch. Rotcod Zzaj
Roll the Dice on Life
Jazz Views with CJ Shearn Best Albums of 2016 year end list.
(Reviewer for ECM)
A lot of impressive albums this year, if not all have been reviewed on the blog, they certainly have been listened to. What I consider to be the crème de la crème this year.
Brian Kastan: Roll The Dice On Life (Kastan Records)
ROLL THE DICE ON LIFE: Ev’ry once in a while, a promoter sends me an album they may not even realize is destined to make musical HISTORY… think “Zappa 21st Century”… Brian’s guitar is just killer.
Sometimes I get some strange stuff in for review. Sometimes I think people are just messing with me, sending me copies of The Emperor's New Clothes just to see if I break the fourth wall for a quick WTF. "We've got a box-set of Tibetan monks farting...let's see if Phillips gives it a good review!" Then again, to stroke my own ego, maybe I'm just one of the few people who can still listen to utter strangeness and cull the artistic merits. Or, people are just messing with me. Yeah, that's it.
From the cover, Brian Kastan's Roll the Dice on Life looks like a fairly straightforward jazz album. Brian, a perfectly normal-looking young man with a shaved head sits cross-legged on the ground holding his guitar in front of a pair of steel doors that feature a couple of stenciled-in dice. The cover also says that bassist Steve Rust, drummer Peter O'Brien and vocalist Miles Griffith are featured. Seems legit. So I popped this into my CD player and WTF? What's going on here? Is this for real?
What I heard, for about ten full seconds before I hit the stop button, was full-force free-jazz-rock-funk, not too distant from what you'd hear on some of Frank Zappa's more experimental releases, but with vocal improvisations that were, to say the least, very interesting. I'm not talking about Ella Fitzgerald scatting in that lovely little-girl voice of hers. I'm not talking about Liz Fraser and her ethereal and nonsensical vocalizations on old Cocteau Twins albums. I'm not talking about the involuntary humming and singing that comes from pure artistic expressions of someone like Glenn Gould or Keith Jarrett. I'm talking vocal improvisations that sound like Dave Chappelle doing his Edgar G. Robinson impersonation. I'm talking about the Cookie Monster eating an entire jar of cookies while wearing a mic.
Ah, Miles Griffith. Who are you? The press release talks of his "rich provocative vocals," which are not the words I would use. Griffith turns out to be one of those guys who's been a part of the NYC jazz scene for a couple of decades and has quite the reputation as both a musician and a band leader. Kastan, Rust and O'Brien are also serious musicians with some serious chops. Kastan's also a licensed hypnotist--but I'll bet he doesn't play this album for clients.
But here's the thing. Ten seconds of Roll the Dice on Life can be off-putting and disconcerting. But if you hang in there, crawl into this particular crazy madman vibe, you start to relax and inhabit the space. Your shoulders start to lower. You start realizing that every minute or so, things really start to click between Miles' cartoonish ramblings. Then before you know it the CD is over and wait! Look! There's TWO CDs! Awesome! By the time you make it through to the end you'll have laughed quite a bit because this odd, odd music does have a logic to it that's above and beyond the "raw energy" of outlandish improvisation. Griffith even speaks actual words at certain points, providing an even heavier anchor to the swirling and chaotic mix, especially with the two closing cuts--"Black Lives Matter" and "Black Lives Matter 2" which addresses all the craziness we've had to endure in 2016.
It's a grounded way to end an album like this, one that makes its own rules as you go along. As for me, I liked it. As for you, well, there are two types of people--those who hear ten seconds of Roll the Dice on Life and say "WTF?" and hit the stop button, and those who hear the same ten seconds, say "WTF?" and then sit down and listen to the whole thing. Or maybe, like me, you're a little of both.
Brian Kastan’s two-CD set Roll the Dice on Life is a Versailles of dazzling guitar and vocal inventiveness over complex rhythms and riffs. Disc 1 offers eight of Kastan’s wordless compositions, plus one number credited to vocalist Miles Griffith. It embeds stark freeform-flirting jazz fusion in a crunchy vortex of propulsive surprises that will appeal to many prog-rock fans.
After the nutty babble of “My Kids [sic] Dance Party,” the contemplative “Those Grey Days” sweeps up into the snarling funk of Griffith’s “Rat Attack,” which features a tense octave-bass solo from Steve Rust and a frantic guitar turn from Kastan. Griffith’s hyperspeed scat onslaught tops off his almost hyperventilating verbosity at the top of the tune. He then builds storms of vocals over the straight-ahead 4/4 of the rock-edged title track – imagine an AC/DC album with all the sounds exploded into fragments, reassembled by a devious lunatic, then played back at double-speed.
Griffith’s remarkably unsettled vocalizing is a good counterpoint to Kastan’s equally creative playing, always full of surprises even as it finds a mood, a mode, and rhythmic vocabulary for each song or section. His extended solo on “Who Knows” is just astounding.
Bassist Rust and drummer Peter O’Brien lock down a complex but steady web of rhythms, sounding especially juicy in the slower “Goodbye 2,” where Griffith scats with more traditional musicality than elsewhere. A trippy twist of heavy medal acidifies “The Dark Party,” which dissolves into panicky stops and starts before the opening motifs return to wrap it all up into a tight package. “Budapest Blues,” a traditional-ish blues with a pointillistic sparseness, is as laid-back as the CD gets, though with plenty of motion along the way, driven by O’Brien’s layered drumming. The twelve-tone-ish blurt of “Is What It Is” closes out the disc.
To digest this album, many listeners, even fusion fans, will have to open their minds wider than they’re accustomed to doing.
Disc 2, 30 minutes of live improvisation from the same quartet, may demand something else: a tolerance for non-directionality. Self-indulgent noodling or inspired psychedelic chaos? At times the music locks into a groove, even threatens to become a song, broadly defined, as in “Funky Free Out.” Helping to focus the ear, the bass and drums are mixed louder than on the studio disc. Kastan ducks out to make the first half of “Pepto Bismol Max” a bass-drums-vocals trio, then flares in with anxious chromatic ascents.
“Black men and women are shot down by the police…not respected at all,” Griffiths wails in the first of a two-part “Black Lives Matter” improvisation, then echoes Marvin Gaye in asking, “What is going on?” You may ask the same thing about Roll the Dice on Life or parts thereof. But it’s worth opening yourself up to find out.
I had no idea about Brian Kastan, composer, guitarist, bandleader. Until now, that is, and his double CD Roll the Dice on Life (Kastan Records 1001). From the moment I put this one on for the first time I heard something I immediately knew was different, unheard of and very accomplished.
There is something Zappaesque, Beefhartian to it all, yet not. It is Kastanian. His guitar work is overarching everything with an exceptional structural sense. There is melodic-harmonic surprise at every turn. And the compositions have a real twist to them.
It is Brian in a quartet setting. Miles Griffith's mostly wordless vocals are a thing apart, articulating the complex melodic lines like nobody else, scatty and musically strong, yet very off the wall in the way he mumbles, grumbles, and musically growls the lines.
Steve Rust on bass and Peter O'Brien on drums are very important to the sound, too. They play some beautiful lines both as composition-realizations and as improvisation-openness.
I must say that there is something astonishing going on here, on the fringes of involved rock but most definitely within the reinvented confines of it all.
Holy cripes! This is DIFFERENT. Get your ears on it, definitely.
Guitarist and composer Brian Kastan is one of the independent artists who are for themselves "and rudder sailor." For years without being influenced zewnętrzym, follow their own chosen course, which brings special effects. Proof of this are the numerous concerts of the artist, along with fellow musicians, each attracting a loyal audience, and discography already includes nine albums copyright. Apart from activities in the framework of their own projects, the musician also taken a composer of music for films and television programs, as well as a respected photographer.
At January 1, 2017 years scheduled premiere of the latest, this time: dual panel, publishing guitarist: "Roll The Dice On Life". The first CD is a set of nine premieres of compositions, while the other filled with improvised instrumental pieces. The whole was registered on 13, 14 and 26 July 2016. in Soundworks Recording Studio. Oscillating around jazz, funk and Latin music leader, support for years Kastan friends with artists: known for his work with, among others, Wynton Marsalis and Max Roach, the eccentric singer Miles Griffith Featuring a unique technique bassist Steve Rust and respected studio musician and concert, drummer Pete O'Brien, whose services are used, among others, Edgar Winter and Roy Buchanan.
The album perfectly balanced proportions between the previously created structures, composition, and loose variations, discovering new, unknown territory improvisation. Here we find humor in the style of Frank Zappa and guitar virtuosity under the sign of Robert Fripp, broken rhythms and hard guitar riffs. Admittedly, specific vocal and scaty Miles Griffith, not everyone can appeal to, but great enthusiasm felt in every sound, makes it after a few minutes we succumb to the mood boards, giving caught up in this crazy, slightly crazy atmosphere.
Brian Kastan in his isolated wykreowanym style does not remain indifferent to the outside world. This is evidenced by at least the end of the album ( "Black Lives Matter"), representing a musical commentary on the current racial and political events in the US.
This is definitely not relaxing music, but full of emotion and tension rock, funk - jazzy dynamic concoction cooked in the original, peculiar style."
The new year revealed a new jazz/rock/funk fusion: Brian Kastan’s self-released all-original Roll The Dice On Life where his bandmates prove worthy adversaries on the second of this two-disc pleasure bomb. In battle, they tend to constantly one-up each other like the great jazz cutting contests of the 1940s.Yet when they complement each other on Disc #1, the strange grooves (that take getting used to but are, ultimately, rewarding), the one dreamy ballad and the scary “Rat Attack” are all highlights.
Kastan is a fascinating musician, both for the way he plays and for his lifestyle. He’s a composer whom Hollywood uses for soundtracks. He plays electric and acoustic guitar plus bass. His awards, though, are for nature photography. His work adorns museum walls in New York City, Europe and Asia. He has a Masters in Music and a degree in psychology. He’s a certified clinical hypnotist and a published author.
And he knows how to pick and lead an A-List band: singer/songwriter Miles Griffith comes from the bands of Ron Carter and Wynton Marsalis. Bassist Steve Rust is on loan from PaulSimon. Drummer Peter O’Brien kicked out the jams for Edgar Winter and the late Roy Buchanan(who turned down replacing Brian Jones in the Stones) before joining Orleans.
By Mike Greenblatt
CD Review: http://www.midwestrecord.com/MWR1150.html
BRIAN KASTAN/Roll the Dice on Life: This electric guitarist finds the corner where fusion and improv collide with each other but resolves the conflict with making this a two disc set so you can appreciate the opposite ends without the middle turning brown. A hypnotist by day, Kastan has a lot on his plate and is certainly down with the art for arts sake side of the ledger. If you like your fusion with that unbridled Euro edge running through it, this massive spontaneous set might just be your cup of tea.
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Here’s one that will be tough to categorize. Is it rap? Funk? Rock? What you have is guitarist Brian Kastan with a flexible team of Steve Rust/b and Peter O’Brien/dr. The ringer is vocalist Miles Griffith, who uses his nasally voice for wild rants, rampages, lyrics and voice’d meanderings that are like vocalese without melody. The team gets rocking on “My Kids Dance Party” and “Who Knows” while going heavy metal on “Goodbye.” Meanwhile, Griffith howls, chirps and jives through the material. Much of the material is improvised in a “live” setting, with a two part “Black Lives Matter” simply raucous rage. A sound track for Bernie Sanders fans?
If you’re looking for a jazz-fusion new release that’s filled with robust, high energy music, “Roll the Dice on Life” from guitarist/songwriter Brian Kastan might be just your taste. A double album that features vocals by Miles Griffith, this novel work is loaded with free improvisation and raw instrumental play in each area, whether from Kastan’s heated electric guitar, bassist Steve Rust’s strength, Peter O’Brien’s rich drumming, or Griffith’s provocative voice. A talented quartet, the group has delivered a two-disc set that is now available for fans across the world, and can most easily be found here. Take a listen – it’s pretty cool.
This is a two-disc set. The first focuses on composition and is some mighty fine jazz-funk-rock fusion. Raging guitar, at times bordering on the unhinged, combines with an unorthodox vocal style that hits you like a cannonball to the gut. This is fiery music with real purpose, yet it still has a sense of humor and a definite coating of weirdness. Fans of Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Screaming Headless Torsos will certainly dig this. How to describe this to those who have yet to listen? Well, it's pretty cool... imagine if Sun Ra had a Belew-like electric guitarist, or if Beefheart could rap; or perhaps imagine Bruce Hampton singing for Zappa with full creative freedom.
Grady Harp Jazz Review
Balancing the integrity of composed songs with the fierce energy activated by free improvisation
Important on so many levels, Brian Kastan and Miles Griffith have a lot to say and they say it so well.