Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM
As a child in Bogotá, Edmar Castañeda and his sister took folk dance classes. Their mother made sure of that. Castañeda liked the dancing, but he really liked the live harp accompaniment. In Spanish, the harp is called the llanero. It’s Colombian, not a classical harp.
When the family moved to Queens, Castañeda studied trumpet and discovered jazz, especially improvisation. So he put his loves together, working as a solo harpist in a New York restaurant and teaching himself the music people wanted to hear on an instrument they did not expect to see.
Now in his mid-30s, Castañeda is a world-traveling, collaborative musical marvel. He’s an extroverted, sweet-tempered virtuoso; The Wall Street Journal calls him the “hippest harpist.” A soprano saxophonist from Israel and a drummer/percussionist originally from the Bay Area round out his trio.
In November 2012, this trio and special guests played three nights at the Americas Society in Manhattan. The series fit Americas Society’s mission to a T; both are designed to foster understanding of issues confronting the hemisphere, and increase awareness and appreciation of a diverse cultural heritage.
Castañeda wears a bright red cap, and his electric-blue harp is his orchestra. He walks those fluid bass lines under percussive chords and fast-moving melodies. Saxophonist Shlomi Cohen, born in Tel Aviv, came to New York to study jazz. Cohen plays funk with the Bernie Worrell Orchestra. Castañeda calls Dave Silliman “the man with four hands.” Silliman is ridiculously productive as he paints with brushes on the snare drum, slaps the cajon he sits on and rattles his gourds.
Guest bandoneonist Héctor del Curto from Argentina now lives in New York, where he directed Forever Tango on Broadway. Vibraphonist Joe Locke is made in the U.S.; he and Castañeda played a duo concert at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival that aired on JazzSet. Vocalist Andrea Tierra from Medellín met and married Edmar Castañeda in New York. And Jorge Glem, the four-string guitar player, has won first place in more than one cuatro festival and competition events in his home country of Venezuela. One by one, they join Castañeda.
This series of concerts received support from Chamber Music America’s 2012 Presenting Jazz program, funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (which also funds JazzSet) and the MetLife Foundation Music of the Americas Concert Series, with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
- “Double Portion” (Castañeda) featuring the trio
- “Libertango” (Piazzolla) with guest Héctor del Curto, bandoneon
- “Cuarto de Colores” (Castañeda) with guest Joe Locke, vibes
- “Carrao Carrao” (traditional) with Andrea Tierra, vocals
- “Entre Cuerdas” (Castañeda) with Jorge Glem, cuatro
- Edmar Castañeda, harp
- Shlomi Cohen, soprano sax
- Dave Silliman, drums and percussion
- Héctor del Curto, bandoneón
- Joe Locke, vibraphone
- Andrea Tierra, vocal
- Jorge Glem, cuatro
Host: Dee Dee Bridgewater. Recording engineer: Bill Siegmund with Don Fierro and Andrew T. Shire. Surround Sound remix engineer: Duke Markos. Studio engineer: Ginger Bruner, KUNV in Las Vegas. Thanks to Sebastian Zubieta, music director, Americas Society; Jeanette Vuocolo, jazz program director, Chamber Music America.