“I was born to play the harp. It is a gift from God and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”
Since arriving in the United States in 1994, Colombian-born harp virtuoso Edmar Castaneda has forged his own distinctive path in music. He brings not only an unfamiliar instrument but a wholly original voice to jazz, branching out into a world of different styles and genres. His wide-ranging career has been remarkable for discovering a brilliant role for the harp in jazz, then continuing to innovate and spark creativity from a wealth of formidable collaborations. His latest CD, Live in Montreal, features the latest in an ever-growing history of thrilling partnerships, an utterly unique duo with the electrifying Japanese pianist Hiromi.
Live in Montreal follows four acclaimed albums as a leader, as well as collaborations with the likes of guitarist John Scofield, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, bassists Marcus Miller and John Patitucci, bandolinist Hamilton de Holanda, Brazilian pop and jazz great Ivan Lins, and Castaneda’s mentor, Cuban-born saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera. He’s also shared stages with iconic artists including Sting, Ricki Lee Jones, The Yellowjackets and Paco De Lucia. In addition to his innovative approach to the jazz tradition, he’s written symphonic works for the Orquestra Clássica de Espinho and the São Paulo Jazz Symphony Orchestra, and chamber pieces for the Israel Camerata Jerusalem and the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia.
Born in 1978 in the city of Bogotá, Colombia, Castaneda took up the harp as a teenager to play the folkloric music of his homeland. He discovered jazz shortly after moving to New York City to join his father in 1994 and was immediately drawn to the freedom and sophistication of the music. With no real precedent for the harp in the jazz world, Castaneda studied trumpet by day while trying out his newfound knowledge on the harp at a restaurant gig by night.
He was ushered into the jazz community by Paquito D’Rivera, who recognized Castaneda’s passion and took the young harpist under his wing. D’Rivera has called him “an enormous talent… [Edmar] has the versatility and the enchanting charisma of a musician who has taken his harp out of the shadow to become one of the most original musicians from the Big Apple.”
Since then, Castaneda 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”. He’s been acclaimed as a master at realizing beautiful complexities of time, while skillfully drawing out lush colors and dynamic spirit and crafting almost unbelievable feats of cross-rhythms, layered with chordal nuances rivaling the most celebrated flamenco guitarist’s efforts.
Castaneda made his debut as a leader in 2007 with Cuartos de Colores, which features the harpist in a variety of settings, including guest appearances by D’Rivera and the explosive percussionist Pedrito Martinez. He followed that with 2009’s Entre Cuerdas, a trio date with trombonist Marshall Gilkes and drummer Dave Silliman that also featured turns by Scofield, vibraphonist Joe Locke, percussionist Samuel Torres and Colombian vocalist Andrea Tierra.
Double Portion (2012) was divided into solo and duo pieces, with Castaneda engaging in scintillating musical conversations with Rubalcaba, de Holanda and saxophonist Miguel Zénon. Live at the Jazz Standard (2015) showcased Castaneda’s World Ensemble, uniting musicians from a variety of global traditions. The stellar band brought back Gilkes, Silliman and Tierra alongside Swiss harmonica master Grégroire Maret; flautist Itai Kriss and saxophonist Shlomi Cohen (both from Israel); Chilean pianist Pablo Vergara; Castaneda’s countryman, Colombian drummer Rodrigo Villalon; Turkish kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi; and Brazilian Sergio Krakowski on pandeiro.
“The Colombian plays the harp like hardly anyone else on earth. His hands, seemingly powered by two different people, produce a totally unique, symphonic fullness of sound, a rapid-fire of chords, balance of melodic figures and drive, served with euphoric Latin American rhythms, and the improvisatory freedom of a trained jazz musician...captivating virtuosity, but in no way only virtuosity for its own sake.” - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung