Edmar Castañeda at Americas Society

Edmar Castañeda. (Image: Roey Yohai)


Colombian Jazz Sensation Edmar Castañeda Triumphs in Americas Society Series

By Kris Simmons

The critically acclaimed performer gave three concerts to packed audiences at Americas Society in November.

In November, Music of the Americas presented three concerts featuring Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda and his trio to packed houses. The “Edmar Castañeda and Friends” series sought to expand upon musical collaborations that Castañeda had initiated in recent recordings.

Since his move to the United States from Bogotá in 1994, Castañeda has taken New York and the world stage by storm with the sheer force of his virtuosic command of the harp—revolutionizing the way audiences and critics alike consider an instrument commonly relegated to the “unusual category.” A master at realizing beautiful complexities of time while skillfully drawing out lush colors and dynamic spirit, The New York Times characterized Castañeda as “almost a world unto himself.”

Castañeda embraced the folkloric traditions of his native land early on. The joropo dance classes which he and his sister regularly attended became master classes in movement accompanied by the harp. His acclaimed performing career as an instrumentalist includes performances at D’Rivera’s Carnegie Hall tribute, the DC Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, the Tenth Annual World Harp Congress, and numerous appearances with artists such as D’Rivera, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, John Scofield, Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band, and John Patitucci. Castañeda’s new disc Double Portion caught the attention of reviewers and his burgeoning legion of fans. This new recording features Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Miguel Zenón on saxophone, and Hamilton de Holanda on mandolin.

Rounding out the Edmar Castañeda trio were drummer and percussionist David Silliman and saxophonist Shlomi Cohen. Silliman was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, where he was exposed to a wide variety of music. After initial studies in the classical field, he started exploring jazz, Latin jazz, Brazilian music, and funk. Hearing music that includes both a drummer and a percussionist made a strong impression on his playing, and trying to recreate that sound and feel with just one person has become a lifetime passion. Born in Tel Aviv, Cohen had a multicultural music education as a student of both Middle Eastern music and jazz. In addition to his live performances, Shlomi contributed to the Grammy-nominated album Frutero Moderno with Gonzalo Grau y La Clave Secreta. 

The concerts included many of the guests featured on Castañeda’s album Entre Cuerdas, released in 2011. On the November 13 opening of this series, Castañeda and his trio brought jazz vocalist Andrea Tierra and renowned bandoneon player Héctor Del Curto. The evening began with the trio playing pieces from Entre Cuerdas including Jesús de Nazareth, an original solo. The Trio was later joined by Tierra and del Curto who helped the band reprise Piazzolla’s Libertango. The evening concluded with the entire trio including Tierra and Curto performing Colibri, a piece inspired by the waltz-like folk music tradition of joropo. 

The second concert in the series on November 19 brought together another collaborator from Entre Cuerdas: vibraphonist Joe Locke. Locke has performed and recorded with a diverse range of notable musicians, including Grover Washington Jr., Kenny Barron, Eddie Henderson, Cecil Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Ron Carter, and The Beastie Boys. Entre Cuerdas, or “between strings” combines traditional Colombian música llanera with jazz improvisation. The Trio reprised Colibri in a version which featured an extended vibraphone solo that echoed the haunting nature of a woman scorned by her lover.

The final concert of the series featured flutist Itai Kriss and cuatro legend Jorge Glem. Glem performed at Americas Society in April with the C4 Trío, and returned in November with a rousing concert. Born in Venezuela, Glem is a cuatro and mandolin player, arranger, composer, and producer. In 2004 he received the award for best cuatro player in the Festival de Música Llanera in Portuguesa, and won the second prize in the I Concurso Internacional La Siembra del Cuatro, the most important festival dedicated to the cuatro in Venezuela. In 2011, he received first prize as cuatro player and as a member of the C4 Trío at the Torneo Internacional del Joropo in Villavicencio, Colombia. He is a member of Jorge Glem Cuarteto, C4 Trío, César Orozco Kamarata Jazz, EnCayapa, Cuatreto, and performs regularly with Marco Granados, Alexis Cárdenas, and Pacho Flores. He has performed with Venezuelan ensembles including the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, Ensamble Gurrufío, and the legendary Serenata Guayanesa. He has also collaborated with leading musicians including Paquito D’Rivera, Cheo Hurtado, Jordan Rudess, Jon Faddis, Aldemaro Romero, Edward Simon, Soledad Bravo, Aquiles Báez, Gualberto Ibarreto, Alirio Díaz, Cecilia Todd, and Rafael el Pollo Brito. He released his first solo album Jorge Glem Cuatro sentido, in 2005, and has participated in over a hundred recordings with artists including Ensamble Gurrufío, Cuarteto de Clarinetes de Caracas, Edward Simon, and Aquiles Báez. He has represented Venezuela in international festivals in the Americas, China, and Europe, and has appeared at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Colony Theater in Miami Beach, and the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

A recording artist praised by Jazzwax as “one of the most exciting new flutist-composers” on the scene, Kriss commands a variety of musical genres with an eclectic style infused with jazz, Latin, and Middle Eastern sounds. Kriss is based in New York, where he is vital member of the downtown and Brooklyn jazz scenes and the Latin jazz and salsa music scenes. In 2008, Kriss participated in the prestigious Betty Carter Jazz Ahead residency program for emerging performers and composers at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. There, he worked closely with such jazz legends as Curtis Fuller, Nathan Davis and the late Dr. Billy Taylor. He can be heard performing, touring, and recording with his own ensemble and exciting jazz and Latin musicians such as Dafnis Prieto, Yemen Blues, Gregory Hutchinson, Burning Spear, Los Hacheros, Pedrito Martinez, Andy Gonzalez, Omer Avital, Grupo Latin Vibe, Yosvany Terry, Avishai Cohen, Eric McPherson, Jason Lindner, Alon Yavnai, Bianca Wu, and Aaron Goldberg.

One of the many highlights of November 26 concert was a collaboration between Glem and the Trio on an original composition of Castañeda’s entitled Cuarto de Colores (Room of Colors). The piece embodied the variations in instrumentation, improvisation, and overall flavor by utilizing the cuatro and harp. Glem then performed a solo piece that dazzled the audience in its almost ethereal nature. Glem’s instrument, the cuatro, is similar in shape and tuning to the ukulele, but with a vastly different character and playing technique. Castañeda’s arpa llanera has 32 nylon strings, compared to the 47 strings on the concert harp, is essentially a folk harp, smaller in stature, and has a strong tradition in Colombia and Venezuela.

Read the The Wall Street Journal’s feature on Castañeda’s performances at Americas Society here.