Music Review: Hiromi & Edmar Castaneda – Live In Montreal (Telarc)

By Devon “Doc” Wendell


When you take two musicians who constantly push the boundaries of jazz and music as a whole, any project they embark on is going to be captivating.  This is certainly the case with jazz pianist and composer Hiromi and jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda on their spectacularly innovative new live CD “Hiromi & Edmar Cataneda – Live in Montreal. ”  The teaming up of these two musicians must have dropped many jaws at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival from which this album was recorded.

Hiromi & Edmar

There simply isn’t anything like the music heard on this album.  Edmar Castaneda has single handedly reinvented the jazz harp.  No one has explored more possibilities on the harp in the in world of jazz since Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.  Hiromi has put her unique stamp on modern jazz piano and composing over the last 10 plus years.


This album is filled with sheer energy, imagination and precision.  With just a piano and harp, Hiromi and Castaneda fill up a lot of space but also create some intriguing dynamics as is the case with the opening number, a Castaneda original  “A Harp In New York.”  It’s impossible to predict where these two virtuoso musicians are headed at any moment.  It’s best not to try to figure it out.  Just take the ride.  Castaneda’s harp does not sound like a traditional harp and his approach is anything but “orthodox.”  At times it sounds like a percussion instrument, at other moments Castaneda attacks his harp like an upright bass. Castaneda does this on “For Jaco,” a tribute to the late, great Jaco Pastorius.   The two musicians often play in unison, creating spontaneous counter rhythms in response what the other is playing.  To do this in such a precise manner is awe-inspiring.   The music on this album is Avant-garde in it’s truest essence, without trying hard to be.


Hiromi’s “Moonlight Sunshine” is a haunting lullaby.  Hiromi’s piano work is delicate whereas Castaneda’s harp bursts into these flowing crescendos which then drop to a sudden whisper.  The improvisations are always thematic and never over-indulgent.   The duo even tackles John Williams’ “Cantina Band” from the bar scene in the original Star Wars film.  The duo sounds like a cross between a jug band on acid and some of Duke Ellington’s earliest compositions.  Hiromi’s piano work is stellar.  Castaneda plays the harp like a bass and a piano.  They swing hard on this humorous sci-fi exploration.


Hiromi’s four part suite “The Elements” was composed specifically for this duo by Hiromi.  You feel force of the elements during this suite; “Air,” “Earth,” “Water,” and “Fire.”  There are hints of chamber music throughout the suite.  Hiromi weaves many carefully crafted musical tapestries around Castaneda’s dancing harp.  It’s hard to fathom such musical mastery.


The album closes with Astor Piazzolla’s Latin-tinged “Libertango.”  Castaneda plays the harp like a classical guitar, often sounding like Andreas Segovia.  Hiromi’s piano runs bring to mind Art Tatum but these two artists have an originality that shines through every wonderful nuance.


“Hiromi & Edmar Castaneda – Live In Montreal ” is a soulful, wisdom- filled experiment that will stay with you forever.  There’s just nothing else like it.  Musicians and music novices of all ages must own this recording.









Dizzy Is God (For Dizzy Gillespie’s 100th Birthday)

By Doc Wendell 


As the four filthy walls close in on me on another panic driven Wednesday in my office, I realize that this coming Saturday, October 21st will be the 100th Birthday of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.  I’ve got my copy of Dizzy’s “For Musicians Only” blasting on my tiny red boom box.  To hear Dizzy swinging that hard with Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, John Lewis, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Stan Levey defies logic.  Those long, often lightning fast rhythmic lines traveling up and down the high, medium and low registers of an instrument with an air hole the size of a grain of rice.  The trumpet; the most challenging instrument I can think of.



Dizzy 1
Dizzy Gillespie


I tried to play the trumpet a few times in high school.  Another jazz obsessed friend bought one and I almost killed myself trying to get one note.  I’m not one to give up on something so quickly but that damn thing kicked my ass.  I saw stars and nothing; not a single sound.  That’s when I realized that Dizzy was god.  He swung, danced, screamed and even cried through his trumpet and made it sound and look effortless.


In grade school I bought an audio cassette called “Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin’ High” on Savoy Records.  It featured some of Dizzy’s earliest sides as a big band leader such as “Oop Bop Sh’ Bam,” “That’s Earl Brother,” “Our Delight, ” “Things To Come,” “Ray’s Idea,” and “Emanon.” The compilation was also made up of several of Dizzy’s early recordings with Charlie Parker, which sparked a musical revolution; “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “All The Things You Are,” “Salt Peanuts,” and “Hot House.”  All of this music was recorded in the mid to late ’40s but started in Father Earl Hines’ band in 1943 and then Billy Eckstine’ (who left Hines’ band with Dizzy and Parker) band in 1944.  The first bebop record was the classic “Woody n’ You”, which Dizzy recorded with Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford in 1944.  Due to a recording ban,  most the world wouldn’t discover bebop until after 1945.  Of course, equal credit for the creation of bebop must also go to Parker and guitarist Biddy Fleet. It was an explosion of new energy and new ideas.   I took it all in.  I felt the hipness in the music which I never felt before.  It made me feel hip, which was rare.



I soon became a Dizzy completest.  I grabbed all of his records as quickly as I could.  Every time I listened to this amazing man play, I though of trying to get a single note out of the trumpet and surrendering in frustration.  I tried to figure out where that dexterity, humor and sublime sense of swing came from.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  It would have to remain one of those great mysteries of the universe.


The greatest of the greats came through Dizzy’s band.  Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Don Byas and Yusef Lateef.  And that’s just naming a few off the top of my head.  Dizzy was the center figure and teacher of modern jazz.  He fostered young talent like no one else.  It was those up-tempo barn burners like “Dizzy’s Blues,” “A Night In Tunisia, ” and “Manteca” that really grabbed me at first but Gillespie was also a supreme balladeer.  Just listen to his renditions of “Lover Come Back To Me” and “I Can’t Get Started.” They’re delicate, mournful and elegant.  Dizzy’s warm tone caresses you with each phrase.  Everything Dizzy played had soul.


I hope everyone will celebrate Dizzy’s Birthday this Saturday. Be prepared with “Dizzy On The French Riviera,” “Dizzy At Newport,” “The Complete RCA Victor Recordings,” “Birks Works,” “Sonny Side Up” and anything from the master’s vast catalogue.  And don’t try to figure out how he did it, just dig it.