If you saw those two names paired and immediately thought, “What an odd collaboration,” join the club. Hiromi, the firebrand Japanese pianist, all flying hair and flamboyant physicality, and Edmar Castañeda, the equally virtuosic yet relatively reserved Colombian harpist: What could they say to each other?
Plenty, as it turns out. Recorded at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival, a stop on their extensive tour, this nine-track set (four of them comprising a suite titled “The Elements”) is often breathtaking in its intrepidity and spirit. Fellow adventurers, the musicians’ like-mindedness far outweighs any disparities.
Castañeda’s “A Harp in New York” establishes the constant interweaving that drives the collaboration. Its daunting melody heads every which way, but the players hang on tight. Yet, for all the mastery this music flaunts, nothing gets overly serious; the show is loads of fun. In the intro to the harpist’s “For Jaco,” he summons his instrument’s deepest tones, so un-harp-like that the incongruity arouses a spontaneous burst of audience laughter and cheers. John Williams’ Star Wars treat “Cantina Band” is near-woozy in vibe and tempo, and when Hiromi breaks into one of her trademark headlong runs, Castañeda can only serve as her rock, churning out a walking bassline. When it’s his turn to step out, though, his companion reins it in enough that she doesn’t overshadow.
The Hiromi-composed suite is the album’s tour de force. Divided into “Air,” “Earth,” “Water” and “Fire” movements, it’s unassuming at first, springlike and approachable; elsewhere it’s dark and ominous. There’s much to take in during its half-hour, as there is throughout—so much so that you’ll never miss a rhythm section. That, frankly, would just be weird.