an exceptional musician makes us feel he is reinventing his instrument,
it is because he is no longer able to abide by its time worn,
set-in-stone tonal and emotional pre-sets. Flouting convention,
he resolves to be true to himself, to convert what's in his head
into fact, and a new sound, a new way of making music is born.
know what to expect from the flute, accordion or harp; their generic
timbre and pitch are as predictable as the centuries they have
of the pipe organ has been around since the 3rd century BC, coming
into its own in the 14-15th centuries when the instrument was
reconfigured to fill the vast and chilly marble spaces of the
magnificent cathedrals of the time. The magnificat --
and at the time revolutionary -- sound that emerged reflected
the glory of God and buoyed the faith of His worshippers. J. S.
Bach was the instrument’s most brilliant and indefatigable
time, the cathedral organ sound and its very particular, sacred
language began to wear thin in a world that was turning secular.
For neglected or disadvantaged communities looking for a way out
of the harsh conditions of inner city life in the 20th century,
the cantata was a foreign tongue that spoke in secret alphabets.
To give voice to the mute disaffection and despair that became
synonymous with black ghetto life in America, a new language was
required, which in the 1950s was radiantly supplied by Jimmy Smith
(1928-2005), who took the conventional organ dispensation, put
it through his Hammond B3, and made it speak the language of jazz.
His revolutionary sound was sky-scraper sleek, icy and cool. The
listener carrying it in his head felt fortified, equal to the
many dead-ends and social iniquities that would have otherwise
crushed him. However transitory, this new organ vibe allowed the
misfits and failures to feel good about themselves: their strut
and cool left no doubt that the neon lights on Broadway were shining
rock began to steal the thunder from all other genres, the organ
sound was again reinvented by Door’s keyboardist Ray Manzarek
(1939-2013). Many rockers swear they actually disliked the organ
until Manzarek came up with his liquid-like, hollowed out organ-bass
sound out of which were fashioned those deliriously expansive
solos that became synonymous with The Doors.
* * * * * * * * * *
of the harp can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Its generic sound
has remained stubbornly unchanged throughout the centuries. We
look to the harp to evoke civility, gentleness, the wind caressing
a field of flowers, angels and cherubs taking to the skies. We
would not summon the instrument to express anger, frustration
or military might.
Columbia’s Edmar Castañeda, whose father was a harpist,
who at 16 discovers the world of jazz and improvisation, but is
unable to find an opening into that fascinating new world because
of the limitations of his instrument. He has already listened
to the great oud (11-13 strings) and kora (21 strings) players
coming out of Africa, and realizes that he has to completely reconfigure
the harp so it can be played more percussively and speak the language
end, he takes his Columbian or arpa llanera harp, redesigns
the sound board to accommodate shorter strings for his right hand,
triple-winds the strings at the long end to produce a rich bass
sound, and finally he introduces a series of mechanical levers
that allow him to change keys from one song to the next or within
result is nothing less than something out of the black and into
the blue. Independently supplying his own bass, Castañeda
is now unprecedentedly free to improvise with his right hand,
alternating complex chord runs and melody, sometimes caressing,
sometimes plucking or striking the strings as per the mood of
the moment. His hybrid sound draws from tango, flamenco, African,
samba, and his native folk, but now -- in solo, duo or trio format
-- friendly to jazz and improvisation.
harp had been previously used (Dorothy Ashby) in jazz, but Castañeda
takes the instrument, its physical and emotional dynamic, to a
new level, a new orbit. His arrestingly original vocabulary of
sounds and effects and the very particular compositions they inspire
reflect the passion and necessity that prepared the harp for its
performance, his energy and presence speak to the extent his instrument
has evolved under his guidance and temperment. To better grasp
what he has accomplished, think of someone who has been refused
entry into a world because of his colour or beliefs, but who refuses
to accept any limitations in his expression, in being himself.
By staying the course and remaining true to his muse, he breaks
down barriers and -- what can only be said of the great innovators
-- becomes his own precedent.
in the Montreal area come June 30th, you’ll be able to catch
him live (in duo with pianist Hiromi) at the city’s celebrated
International Jazz Festival. He will dazzle
with technical virtuosity such as you have never seen, much like
Stanley Jordan dazzled with his reinvention of the guitar, whose
fret board is wired to be played like a piano.
with Jordan, the final judgement of Edmar Castañeda’s
music will not be rendered by the mesmerized eye and the excitement
generated by startling innovation and technical brilliance, but
by the ear, in those “quiet nights of quiet stars”
moments, when the CD is spinning and there is just you and the
music. It won’t matter a whit how the sound is produced.
The discerning listener will be looking for those exceptional
qualities that allow only the very best in music to survive on
its own sonic terms.
Jordan, if not forgotten, plays in the shadows of the many more
talented guitarists of our time because the tapping or hammering
of the notes and chords on the fret board do not lend themselves
to the kind of deep probing that results in memorable music. Despite
technical wizardry that is without precedent, Jordan falls short
in jazz’s most critical category: interpretation.
it may that Castañeda is wowing audiences with his unsurpassed
brilliance on an instrument he has completely reinvented, only
time will tell if his compositions and improvisations will survive
the novelty of their production in live performance.
International Jazz Festival
Friday, June 30, 2017 at 8:00 PM
Monument-National 1182 St. Laurent Blvd