The harp seems such a cerebral instrument, the sound a mix of, light, lush delicacy, refinement and finesse. It is not often heard in jazz outside of large ensemble settings. Columbian harpist/bandleader/composer Edmar Castaneda seems intent on changing that dynamic.
On Entre Cuerdas, Castaneda employs a trio of unlikely parts: harp, trombone and percussion, and approaches his art with the heart and raw energy of a delta blues player combined with the unfettered passion and instrumental acumen of a flamenco guitarist. The music he creates is not of the cerebral sort but rather a mixture of gut and soul emotion and unfettered spiritual joy, aided and abetted by a huge technical proficiency.
The set features guest appearances by guitarist John Scofield on the opener, "Sabroson," and vibraphonist Joe Locke on "Colbri" and "Song of Hope." Scofield adds a bluesy grit to Castaneda's passionate world music attack; and Locke, a jazz star finally getting some well-deserved recognition, slips a cool sustain under the harpist's fiery emotion. The smooth integration of the guest slots into the ensemble interplay is one key to the success of this project. There's no grandstanding, no pyrotechnic look-at-me soloing boasts.
Spirituality is a major component in Castaneda's approach. "Jesus de Nazareth" has a dreamy, deliberate reverence; and "Song of Hope" brims with a searching optimism.
The harp and trombone seem odd band fellows, but Gilkes' suppleness and relative restraint matches up nicely with Castaneda's exuberance and intensity; though he does push the limits of his restraint with some 'bone boldness on "Canto," a tune that features a rousing vocal by Andrea Tierra.
Harpist Edmar Castaneda proves a passionate innovator on Entre Cuerda. The set is a stellar outing, evidence that jazz, in skillful, youthful hands, is a vibrant, forward-moving art form.
Sabroson; Entre Cuerdas; Jesus de Nazareth; Colibri; Song of Hope; Columbian Dixie; Canto; Looking Forward; Afro Seis.
Edmar Castaneda: harp; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Dave Silliman: drums, percussion; Andrea Tierra: vocal (7); Joe Locke: vibes (4, 5); John Scofield: guitar (1); Samuel Torres: cajon (5).
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