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Edmar Castaneda
Cuarto de Colores

Every so often a recording surfaces that fundamentally changes the way one thinks about music. Enter harpist-composer-bandleader Edmar Castaneda, born into a musical family in Bogotá, and student of the arpa llanera since age 13, under the tutelage of his father Pávelid Castaneda.

The harp does not generally come to mind when one thinks jazz, but since moving to New York in 1994, Edmar Castaneda has performed and recorded (to rave critical reviews) with an impressive lineup including the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band, Lila Downs, Giovanni Hidalgo, Paquito D'Rivera, Wynton Marsalis, John Patitucci, Dave Samuels, and John Scofield. The only question is why Castaneda does not have a major label contract.

On Cuarto de Colores, Paquito D'Rivera sits in on alto sax and clarinet ("Madrugada azul" and "Sonrisas"), and contributes the album notes in Spanish and English translation. A D'Rivera anecdote captures the spirit of this recording and the artist behind it. Union City's Cuban population sustains a serious rumba scene, and singer-guitarist David Oquendo told his young Colombian friend about the Sunday evening descargas at the club La Esquina Habanera. Castaneda headed to New Jersey, harp in tow. It took Oquendo's intervention to get the harpist through the incredulous crowd to the stage, where he promptly blew away the congueros and diehard audience alike. Now, says D'Rivera, they cannot get enough of the virtuoso they call "el rumbero del arpa."

Castaneda plays the harp as a lead instrument, in a fashion owing something alike to flamenco guitar and piano, bending notes, conjuring up astounding melodic and bass lines and jazz harmonies with an intensely rhythmic, percussive attack. Superbly backed in various spare combinations of trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, bandoneon, electric bass, drums, congas, percussion, and palmas, Castaneda essays a mostly original repertoire tinged with Afrojoropo, bulería, and rumba, sturdily improvisational whatever the genre.

There is also a lovely reading of Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves" (a fine trombone complement by Marshall Gilkes), and a pensive, tango ballad, "Alfonsina y el mar" (Hector del Curto on bandoneon), the Ariel Ramírez-Félix Luna tribute to pioneering Argentine poet-editor Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938). Castaneda is a singular voice, a Pan-American master, beyond all musical categories, and beholden to none. - Michael Stone

Listen to samples of all the songs

The artist's web site:

CD available from CD Baby

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