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.
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.