Brian Kastan: Roll the Dice on Life
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.
The mayhem reaches a peak early with ‘Rat Attack’, the third track. From there, the rhythm section comes alive and keeps things funkier than many comparable albums. Many of the melodies are obtuse. Tonalities are certainly not always diatonic, and this approach works like it ideally should.
‘The Dark Party’, another standout track, starts with a riff that could be classic rock, but things devolve quickly (in a good way). Spoken word and guttural vocalizations add to this what might be missing if it were instrumental only; context and a human element that is beyond reproach.
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.
This particular rhythm section is crucial to holding all this wackiness together. They do a nice job providing texture and a grouding that seems required at times.
Peter O’Brien has drummed for artists Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jack McDuff, Edgar Winter, and Roy Buchanan, before joining guitarist John Hall and his hit band Orleans. Peter teaches at Bard College and gives private instruction too.
Bassist Steve Rust has written for film as well, and has held the bottom end down for the likes of Anthony Braxton, Paul Simon, and Natalie Merchant.
Finally, there’s Miles Griffith, vocalist/composer. He has sung with Ron Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Max Roach, Jimmy Heath, and Reggie Workman. His style is quite unique, and the spoken word bits and vocalizations just seal the deal.
These particular bandmates are all most certainly rolling the dice, and winning.