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Artist Profiles

Edmar Castaneda: A World Of Music

By Published: November 26, 2013
Castaneda arrived in New York as a teenager in 1994 and it wasn't long before he was absorbing the language of jazz—present and past—into his playing. His interests, however, were not restricted to any one type of music. Drummer/percussionist David Silliman
David Silliman
b.1960
percussion
was playing with flamenco guitarist Hernan Romero in New York's Zinc Bar back in 2003 when Castaneda walked in: "He really liked my playing," recalls Silliman of the young harpist. "We had a gig later that week and Hernan invited him to come down. I had never heard him but when he sat in it was like, wow man! Who is this?"

Listening to Castaneda play bulerias alongside Colombian Joropo rhythms it comes as no surprise to learn that flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia
Paco De Lucia
Paco De Lucia
1947 - 2014
guitar
is an important influence. Like Zenon, Silliman rejects the limitations of Latin Jazz to describe Castaneda's music: "It's just a label. People think they have to put a name on it. His music is about the world."

Castaneda, Silliman and trombonist Marshall Gilkes
Marshall Gilkes
Marshall Gilkes
b.1978
trombone
formed a trio a little while later, though as Silliman recalls, the genesis of the trio that continues to this day a decade on was something of an accident: "One of our first gigs was as a quartet with a bassist. He wasn't a great reader and we didn't have a lot of rehearsal. At one point he got lost so Edmar just started playing the bass. It sounded great and that was the birth of the trio."

The chemistry in the trio is special, as Gilkes explains: "Our sound-checks are mostly just to check that we hear each other fine. We've played so much together that we know what direction the soloist wants to go or what direction we want to go as a group. It's pretty cool how little we have to think. We just have to listen to where musically things are going to go and that's a real luxury to have. The music feels really natural."

For Silliman, the trio's musical affinity stems from the strong personal bonds that unite them: "It's about the personalities. We get along and everybody supports everybody else," he explains. "There's a lot of communication on stage and we're trying to push each other to greater heights."

Castaneda is always open to new sounds and Silliman recalls the impression New Orleans made on the harpist: "Edmar had never heard second line music and he just fell in love. On the second CD there's a tune ["Columbian Dixie"] and the beginning is kind of based on a second line rhythm, where the tuba would play. So when we travel and experience new music we kind of bring that into the trio. The music is always evolving."

It says much for Castaneda's standing among his fellow musicians that his debut CD, Cuarto de Colores, featured established jazz clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
b.1948
saxophone
, in addition to Silliman and Gilkes. His second CD, 2010's Entre Cuerdas saw Castaneda's regular trio joined by jazz stalwarts such as vibraphonist Joe Locke, guitarist John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
, and percussionist Samuel Torres
Samuel Torres
b.1976
congas
, whose CV includes stints with timbale legend Tito Puente
Tito Puente
Tito Puente
1923 - 2000
band/orchestra
, saxophonist Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval
b.1949
trumpet
and bassist Richard Bona
Richard Bona
Richard Bona
b.1967
bass, electric
. The international press was universally glowing in response to Castaneda's first recorded outings, noting his virtuosity and musicality in equal measure.

Audiences too, have always reacted with a mixture of disbelief and the excitement of discovery: "Audiences are just blown away," explains Silliman. "When I first played with Edmar people asked if we were playing with a bass loop. When we played in Umbria at the winter festival the room was maybe half full but by the end of the concert the place was standing room only and all the press people were there. They'd never heard harp played that way. [pianist] Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
b.1978
piano
was at the back and he was kind of looking all over for the bassist," laughs Silliman.

The dense layers that Castaneda weaves are all the more remarkable given the limitations of his instrument: "It's a diatonic instrument so it's like playing the piano using only the white keys," explains Gilkes. "He can't modulate to other keys. On the Colombian harp you have to re-tune between each composition if you're switching keys but a couple of years ago a French company designed Edmar a harp that has levers on it so he can just flip a couple of levers and then he's in the new key. In the middle of a tune he can flip levers and add something outside the harmony that we're in. That's added something musically to the trio."




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