Every instrument unearths a master musician who thoroughly redefines the boundaries of what's musically possible with its utility. In the same breath as the Yo-Yo Ma's of the world, virtuoso jazz harpist Edmar Castañeda fearlessly stuns audiences and critics alike with his unbridled talents as a player and composer. Castañeda follows up six albums (Cuarto de Colores; Entre Cuerdas; Double Portion; Live at the Jazz Standard; Live In Montreal; Harp vs. Harp) with his latest recording project, Family, featuring the artist in the trio format with Shlomi Cohen (soprano sax) and Rodrigo Villalon (drums) with special guest vocalist Andrea Tierra. Family is set for release on Friday, May 21, 2021.
Edmar Castañeda's unparalleled versatility on the harp has caught the attention of musical titans such as Sting, Bela Fleck, John Scofield, Ricki Lee Jones, John Patitucci, and Pedrito Martinez; all of whom Castañeda has collaborated with either on stage or in the recording studio. Upon seeing him perform live, The New York Times noted, "Edmar Castañeda completely rethought his instrument... [he] used his left hand to pluck out bass lines independently while improvising hot, jolting off-centered lines with his right." GRAMMY Award-winning clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, comments, "Edmar is...an enormous talent, he 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."
On Family, Castañeda set out to capture the spirit of the world living as a unified "family." What he couldn't anticipate though during his initial Brooklyn recording sessions in late 2019 was the fact that two drastic life challenges were imminent. First and foremost, Castañeda slipped while working at home in his attic and broke two bones shattering his right wrist into tiny pieces. Doctors initially said he would need internal metal and screws, as well as exterior supports to fully heal from the injury. All of his concerts and tours were cancelled. Fortunately, he recovered in four months (instead of eight months) and was ready to perform by the end of February 2020. Then, the COVID-19 global pandemic hit.
Over the course of 2020, the compositions on Family evolved with new meanings. After a year-and-a-half of no concerts, Family has come to represent hope, resilience, faith, peace, and love. The album reflects BBQs in the backyard, sharing wine with Andrea in the evenings, dancing and singing with the kids, homeschooling their children, and saying prayers each night as a family. What was initially a music project unfolded into something with much more significance.
"It's been a difficult struggle for musicians throughout the pandemic," says Edmar Castañeda, "but I realized that we lack nothing if my family stays close and together. Life has certainly been a paradox, what could have brought us down made us stronger in love and kindness. We actually got to live what we recorded in the studio. We made it through with few material things and instead focused on the preciousness of life."
Family opens with "Battle of Faith," which encourages people to keep good faith until the end. The space of the trio gives ample time for Castañeda to take the spotlight while Shlomi Cohen traverses between sharp, punctuated hits and dreamy horn lines. "For Jaco" is a triumphant feat showcasing Castañeda's left-hand work as he tributes the great bassist Jaco Pastorius. When Cohen and Villalon join, jazz fusion band Weather Report is in the air.
The title track "Family" was named by Castañeda's son Zamir. It's full of joy, promise, and condenses Family into a single track. "At the start of the recording sessions, I saw the potential of the world coming together as one big family! I know this is still possible, and this arrangement goes through a myriad of feelings on our journey as one."
"Cancion Con Todos" is a standard of Latin American music. The narrative suites Family well as it talks about the American continent uniting together with all its richness and beauty. "Cancion Con Todos" features vocalist Andrea Tierra, and singing by their two children. Another standard is "Aqua Fresca," written by Venezuelan harpist Hugo Blanco. Castañeda says, "I learned this song when I was just a boy. I've arranged it with some twists and turns from all the musical influences I have been exposed to after all these years touring the globe."
Castañeda composed "Acts" based on a Bible verse by the Apostle Paul, "faith without works is dead." The work is an invitation to not only have faith, but to act on it. Family closes with a rendition of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, sung in Spanish by Andrea Tierra. "Andrea wrote a 'pajarillo' for it, which is a musical style improvised by the singer in Llanera music," says Castañeda. "We wanted to include this because during the pandemic we tried as much as possible to enjoy our favorite things and share them as a family."
Prior to his injury and the start of the pandemic, Castañeda's final show was a duet concert with Bela Fleck at Big Ears Festival 2019. Recorded by Jazz Night in America, it's an exceptional exposé on the brilliance of Edmar Castañeda (CLICK TO VIEW). The two had never performed together, nor rehearsed before the concert.
Bela Fleck says of Family, "I'm so happy to hear this new offering from the great Edmar Castañeda. It's exciting, it's warm, it's surprising, and it grooves like nobody's business!"