Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda – Live in Montreal (2017)

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The idea of a piano/harp performance wouldn’t normally excite me, but pianist Hiromi and harpist Edmar Castaneda have built careers around making their respective instruments vessels of excitement. The two joined forces for a live performance at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival, an encounter had its beginnings at the 2016 festival, where Castaneda opened for Hiromi’s band. Each of them took the opportunity to check out the other’s performances. Hiromi’s reaction to seeing Edmar play wasn’t like anything she expected: “I didn’t realize the harp could create rate such rhythm and groove. I only knew about the classical harp, so my image of the instrument was very different,” she admitted. “His way of playing was pure energy, full of passion…”

Since that also describes Hiromi’s own approach to the piano, it seemed destined they were going to make thrilling music together, and they did. Live in Montreal captures that 2017 duet, and Telarc is wasting no time getting this out to the public just a few months later (October 6, 2017).

The most noticeable thing from listening to Live in Montreal is how much space the two alone can occupy: bass and percussive elements are seamlessly undertaken by both without either having to step away from their primary undertaking of carrying out the melodies. The quicksilver unison lines are breathtaking as are the telepathic counteractions and the sharp turns.

Castaneda’s “A Harp In New York” reveals to the unfamiliar why he’s Hiromi on the harp: an extended composition full of peaks and higher peaks, hairpin curves and launching pads for incendiary solos by both him and Hiromi. For another Castaneda song “For Jaco” the harp wiz begins playing his instruments like, yes, a bass guitar (!) and after a lighthearted exchange with Hiromi alternates between the percussive strum and fingerpicking of an acoustic guitar and the tonally rich sounds more commonly heard from a harp. After that breathless performance capped by Hiromi’s two-fisted romp up and down the keys, her gently swaying “Moonlight Sunshine” is a chance for the two to catch their breath and focus on simply spinning a moving lyric. Castaneda’s harp on its solo turn approximates a Japanese koto.

The two engage in playful ragtime when taking on John Williams’ “Cantina Band” (from the bar scene on the original Star Wars movie) and temporarily turn it into a Brazilian frolic. The two also delve into contemporary tango with the classic Astor Piazzolla song “Libertango.”

About half of the show is taken up by Hiromi’s four-piece suite, “The Elements.” A panoply of styles and moods, it’s a fine vehicle for showing off the boundless range of the Colombian harpist and Japanese pianist. The “Fire” section deserves special mention, as lives up to its name. Containing all the passion, grace and fire of Spanish music, Castaneda molding his harp into the spitting sonic image of a flamenco guitar is astonishing.

Much as Chick Corea and Gary Burton revealed the magic that can happen between virtuosic piano and vibraphone, Live in Montreal is its own revelation about the enchantment that can come from combining world-class piano with an unconventionally inventive harp. Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda together are greater than the sum of its substantial parts.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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  • Pierre Bourassa

    I was there on the 30th of june at the Monument National and your comment is fabulous.Dead on! Pure talents,pure music and pure love.God bless them.

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