To walk into the Sugar Club and find a beautiful silver Columbian harp sitting centre stage, framed by red velvet curtains and fairy lights, is a beautiful thing. The setting is perfect for a night of Edmar Castaneda’s own unforgettable brand of harp jazz-fusion. Equally unforgettable is Castaneda’s personal dress sense: the Saved By the Bell-era jumper mixed with his almost trademark cap (bright red in this case) ensures the audience doesn’t take him as a run-of-the-mill classical harpist.
For those familiar with his 2012 album, ‘Double Portion’, most of the music was very recognisable, but his improvisatory twists keep the performance from coming across as too ‘safe’. Even with better-known pieces from more traditional repertoire such as Piazzola’s Libertango, Castaneda owns the music, shaping the notes into something entirely new. His enthusiasm comes across in every aspect of his bodily performance, dancing infectiously throughout the concert with a joyous smile on his face.
‘Colibri’, originally heard on Castaneda’s 2009 album Entre Cuerdas, is the highlight of the night. Bringing together all the technical elements heard throughout the course of the evening including note bending, cross-rhythms, use of his nails, strumming, sliding on the string and very notably use of the sound board as a percussion instrument, the piece clearly astounds most of the audience. Breathless gasps and chuckles come as Castaneda brought a sound world from the harp of a depth and maturity only usually found from the likes of an orchestra. Lacking the accompaniment heard in the album, his addition of percussion in the form of an extremely skilled maracas solo is mesmerising, adding to the palpable awe in the room.
Contrasting serious intensity and light-hearted enjoyment during his playing, when chatting with the audience Castaneda’s off-hand grin and bow following the virtuosic performances are a sure sign of his sincere, charming personality. While chatting with the audience he is cool and relaxed, exclaiming how happy he is to be playing in the land of the harp and revealing the depth of his connection to the instrument.
At times the harmonies were so rich that a simple melody would almost be an appreciated resting point, but the lack shows how little Castaneda needs to rely on easy musical escapes, instead filling every moment of his music—and every register of his harp—with expression and meaning. The kind of entertainment he presents is not something that could be found in a typical jazz night, nor does it belong in the classical world but it works beyond both of those worlds, creating its own place in music. Melody or not, Castaneda proves the harp deserves far more than to be relegated to a supporting role. It belongs in the spotlight, as does he.
Edmar Castaneda will appear at the Station House Theatre, Clifden at 20:00, Friday 25th October and at Triskel Church, Cork at 14:30, Sunday 27th October as part of his tour presented by Music Network.