Edmar Casteneda: Entre Cuerdas

Jazz harp is not as rare as you might think. There is an International Jazz Harp Foundation and on their website, you can read biographies of jazz harpists of the past, including Adele Girard, Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, as well as current jazz harpists like Edmar Castaneda. Casteneda plays the Colombian harp, which is slightly smaller than the classical harp, and with his spell-binding technique, the angelic harp becomes a jazz instrument of formidable expression. Castaneda uses his left hand to maintain dynamic grooves that would normally be provided by an upright bass. Concurrently, his right hand produces flourishes of sounds that range from delicate single note melody lines to chordal clumps.

On the intro to the spirited “Entre Cuerdas” (which translates to "between strings") Castaneda's harp sounds like a cross between a flamenco guitar and a Middle Eastern oud. Trombonist Marshall Gilkes uses deeply slurred tones that pose the perfect counterpoint to Castaneda’s slightly tinny, high register fingerings. Half way through the song, Castaneda slaps his bass strings which re-energizes the piece and Gilkes replies with a raucous response. The combination of sounds, along with a battery of effects from drummer/percussionist Sillman, creates an engaging interchange that could stir the soul of a dancer.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Deborah Henson-Conant: On The Rise

I am a huge fan of Elements, the experimental jazz group formed over 20 years ago by bassist Mark Egan and drummer Danny Gottlieb. Every few years they come out with some new music. There have been some albums of uneven material. But the band, which uses revolving musicians to play with Egan and Gottlieb, has for the most part produced wonderful music. Why all the talk about Elements when I am reviewing a cut from the fine harpist Deborah Henson-Conant? The answer is simple. "On The Rise" is basically an Elements song with Henson-Conant's harp sitting in for the guitar of Stan Samole or Steve Khan. Café and Clifford Carter were also frequent Elements collaborators. "On the Rise" is even co-written with Egan. Henson-Conant acquits herself well on this involving sound exploration. The harp isn't exactly the type of instrument that allows you to cut glass. But Henson-Conant knows how to use its timbres to fill out a lush fusion piece.

June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Dorothy Ashby: Taboo

F.W. Murnau's silent film Tabu (1931) introduced a sacred Polynesian word into the pop lexicon. Shot on location in Bora Bora, Tabu tells of lovers fleeing their village after the girl's unwilling selection as a bridesmaid to the gods. Americans were scandalized by their first cinematic exposure to the au naturel South Pacific, abounding with bare-breasted native ladies. Here, a fully clothed Dorothy Ashby performs "Taboo" on an ancient and most exotic musical implement. Some instruments deserve to be taboo in jazz, but not Ashby's harp. This is solid, swinging jazz, whetted by Wess and whisked by the matchless Haynes.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments


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