Seriously? A harp and piano duo?

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Wed May 24 3:47pm

Yes. For reals. But with Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda, I guarantee you won't notice it's just the two of them.

Jazz festival aficionados will be familiar with Hiromi - in the past few years she has appeared as a featured artist with Stanley Clarke's band (2010 in the tent), and twice with her Trio Project (2012 in the tent on a double-bill with The Bad Plus, and 2014 at Koerner Hall). Her performances are bombastic, but also, at times, wonderfully delicate. The lesser known component of the duo - at least here in Toronto - is Colombian harp virtuoso Edmar Castaneda.

I can't remember where I first heard about Edmar Castaneda, but I first heard him via an NPR Tiny Desk Concert back in 2010. His facility on the instrument certainly stuck out, but I was particularly intrigued by the way he simultaneously creates melody, harmony and rhythm in his performances. I mean - check out what happens here at 1:35:

Edmar plays the Colombian harp, which is smaller that the harps used in more classical settings. And a big difference? No pedals - which means Edmar has to work a lot harder to change keys, add sharps and flats - that sort of thing. To watch him play, you would never know he's doing extra work. Edmar's performances typically include original compositions and Colombian folk songs; but he also takes on more standard jazz repertoire. For example - his performance here with Gregoire Maret on Autumn Leaves:

The little video I saw of Edmar back in 2010 was enough to make me an instant fan - in fact we brought him in that year to open up for Paco de Lucia at the SONY Centre. He performed a 40-minute solo set, and earned a standing ovation - it will be a treat to hear him this year with a bit more time on stage.

In many ways, Hiromi is a perfect partner for Edmar (or maybe Edmar is the perfect partner for Hiromi?). As we've seen from the clips above, Edmar can get around his instrument with impressive technique; similarly, Hiromi has made a name for herself in part through the ease with which she covers the full range of the piano keyboard. Here's a "live in studio" video of her tune "Alive", from the 2014 album of the same name, which demonstrates the energy Hiromi has brought to every performance I've seen:

Fiery technique is certainly key to creating an exciting performance...but it's the more subtle moments that tend to really connect me to what I'm hearing. If an artist can maintain my interest in the quiet (but no less intense) moments, then I start to feel like I'm in the presence of a master. Hiromi's playing is often pyrotechnic; but her approach at heart is emotional. She speaks fondly of one of her first piano teachers: "When she wanted me to play with a certain kind of dynamics, she wouldn’t say it with technical terms. If the piece was something passionate, she would say, ‘Play red.’ Or if it was something mellow, she would say, ‘Play blue.’ I could really play from my heart that way, and not just from my ears." I feel that comes across in Hiromi's playing - the technique, ultimately, serves the emotion behind the music. Here in a solo setting, she has room and time to build - from an introspective melody to a raucous solo and back again - which, for me, truly shows off her mastery of the instrument:

Suffice to say, we're in for a treat. These two outstanding musicians are sure to cover a broad spectrum when they take the stage together - literally on their respective instruments, and emotionally in what they choose to play.

The Hiromi Duet: Featuring Edmar Castaneda performs Wednesday June 28, 8 pm at Koerner Hall. Buy tickets now or, for more information go to their concert page.

Josh