Edmar Casteneda: Entre Cuerdas (2009)
The harp is a jazz instrument? Though not as widely appreciated as, say, the saxophone, a few daring souls have taken this classical instrument into the world of improvisationamong them, Dorothy Ashby, Deborah Henson-Conant and Lori Andrews. Colombian-born Edmar Casteneda is another in their ranks.
Casteneda began playing harp at age 13. His career has brought him into association with Paquito D'Rivera, Wynton Marsalis, John Patitucci, Dave Samuels, Janis Siegel and many others. For much of Entre Cuerdas, he is accompanied by drummer Dave Salliman and trombonist Marshall Gilkes. Other guests are guitarist John Scofield, vocalist Andrea Tierra, who wrote the lyrics to "Canto," vibraphonist Joe Locke and cajón player Samuel Torres.
Casteneda leaves no doubt that he is a jazz musician, opening "Sabro Son" with expressive plucking not unlike that of an acoustic bassist. The introduction is then quickly supplemented by trombone, drums and guitar. Castaneda shows exceptional speed and dexterity during his middle solo, while Silliman punctuates key points with emphatic cymbal crashes. Scofield solos as well.
After a finger-sizzling opening riff, Casteneda mellows for the tranquil "Jesus de Nazareth." The harp is a cappella, though it sounds like a duet with bass, which is part of Casteneda's two-handed approach to playing.
"Song of Hope," like several tracks, begins softly and slowly with Locke joining Casteneda for a spirited duet. The two blend beautifully as the song picks up in intensity. Locke leads the melody while Casteneda plays counterpoint. After two passes, Locke ventures onto an extended solo, backed by the harp. This carries through to what appears to be the end of the song. Then, just before the previous sound fades to nothing, Casteneda takes point.
Although the sound of the instrument leaves no doubt that a harp is playing, there are times when Casteneda's style bounces from that of an acoustic guitar to that of a piano. He wrote eight of the nine songs, with Gilkes contributing "Looking Forward." It all comes together for one of the year's more unique releases.
Track Listing: Sabro Son; Entre Cuerdas; Jesus de Nazareth; Colibri; Song of Hope; Colombian Dixie; Canto; Looking Forward; Afro Seis.
Personnel: Edmar Castaneda: harp; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Dave Silliman: drums, percussion; John Scofield: guitar (1); Andrea Tierra: vocals (7); Joe Locke: vibes (4, 5); Samuel Torres: cajon (5).