When motivating his keyboardist and producer, Robert "Baabe" Irving III, to expand his talents to painting as he had, Miles Davis told him, "Music is painting you can hear, and painting is music you can see." Painting with sounds is the approach that guitarists Mark Wingfield and Kevin Kastning have taken on I walked into the silver darkness (Greydisc), which, according to the liner notes, represents their first time ever playing together.
Now if Wingfield and Kastning's "paintings" could be described here in artistic terms, abstract would be the obvious choice. But isn't that rather general? Instead, let's try pointillism, which is defined on dictionary.com as, "the technique of painting elaborated from impressionism, in which dots of unmixed colour are juxtaposed on a white ground so that from a distance they fuse in the viewer's eye into appropriate intermediate tones."
More musically speaking, reference points for this recording may include the guitar/guitar-synthesizer experiments recorded approximately two decades ago by John Abercrombie and Al Di Meola, especially on the classic release Tirami Su. Evaluated on its own merits, I walked into the silver darkness is an attempt to merge moods via two separate approaches that are heard together in an improvised setting: Wingfield's solos and samples float above, while Kastning stays grounded, providing a foundation, through his six-string classical guitar, fretless guitar and 14-string guitars. Kastning's explorations on the 12-string extended baritone guitar are also quite novel.
Upon first listen to the opening track, "All distance transform," one might equate Wingfield's sampling sounds to those produced by the late Michael Brecker's electronic wind instrument. Then, later in the track, his sound segues to something resembling a trumpet. While the employment of technology may seem impersonal at times, the recording itself does have its natural moments, especially when Kastning's chording hand is heard as it changes positions on "From all the green around you."
(Let's dig these song titles for a minute: "Arch of unimagined bridges," "Into equilibrium hesitation," and "Scattered rain of sleep"! Are we, like, college educated or what? Okay. Back to the review.)
Wingfield and Kastning provide their most interesting interplay on "The sharp crucible of autumn." Their sounds jab and spar here and there, giving this track a somewhat nervous, jittery vibe, a welcome contrast from the recording's overall meditative, ethereal norm. As this disc progresses, the guitarists continue setting scenes and moods that also invite the listener to pick up their mental brushes and paint their own pictures. For "Long quiet transform of a thousand skies," the gentlemen employ much space to their advantage. This track really could be perfect soundtrack music accompanying a scene showing a lone, stranded traveler whose car has just quit on a deserted roadway at the highest of the hottest noon. The traveler walks and walks, while Wingfield and Kastning search and search, before he gets transformed via the former's solo to ...somewhere...mental... physical...or metaphysical...
Wingfield and Kastning are really at their maximum minimalistic best on "Scattered rain of sleep." This experiment--surprisingly the shortest track at less than two minutes—would really make perfect accompaniment sound design for Ken Nordine's Word Jazz. The gentlemen's explorations are given even greater suspense through effective uses of space and reverb.
For the closer, "Things left unspoken," Wingfield and Kastning deliver their best emotional performance. By keeping their expressions direct and simple, their abstract paintings in sound evolve into a ballad that actually tells a story from the heart. The longing feel achieved on this track makes it the best genuine emotional expression on an effort that, on the whole, could have used a few more.