(Arpa y Voz)
The boundless virtuosity of Colombia-born Edmar Castaneda is making the harp a force in jazz again. On Double Portion, he plays both the standard 47-string classical harp and his customary instrument, the 32-string folkloric arpa llanera (literally, “plains harp”) of his homeland. More importantly, Castaneda, who has always challenged himself by recruiting topflight improvisers for his recording dates, partners with three particularly distinguished guests on half of the session’s 10 tracks.
Brazilian mandolin player Hamilton de Holanda is present for the only non-Castaneda work, Astor Piazzolla’s well-known, melancholy-drenched masterwork “Libertango.” This is rich territory for the harpist and the mandolinist, who take turns as lead voice, while the other provides thick orchestral textures and tango-esque rhythmic surges.
Puerto Rican alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón sits in on two tracks, including “A la Tierra (To the Earth).” The tune quickly sheds its initial orientation to folkloric rhythm for a free-spirited exploration of the highly structured melody, with Zenón spitting a barrage of staccato notes over Castaneda’s fistfuls of strings. When Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba appears on “Quitapesares (Consolation),” the stage is set for a freely improvised aural fiesta. The song meanders from islands of calculated tranquility to a furious finale fashioned by Rubalcaba’s montuno and echoes of the pastoral Colombian hinterland in Castaneda’s steely plucking. Equally masterful on his solo tracks, the harpist fulfills the album title’s promise with a double-dip of sonic delights.
— Mark Holston