It is very difficult to describe the music of Edmar Castaneda. He has a unique and varied style that defies attempts to capture it into words. When I arrived at the Meet & Greet before Edmar’s concert with trumpetist Eric Vloeimans, on Thursday night, the interviewer was asking the two performers to at least make an attempt at describing what kind of music we could expect to hear. This was the first time these two great artists had met, and everyone was curious what their collaboration would produce. Both Edmar and Eric agreed that it would be better not to talk too much about the music, but rather to let the music speak for itself. And they were right, because when the music did finally begin, it had so much to say that couldn’t be said in any other way.
For me as the festival blogger, however, this was quite an inconvenience! It’s all well and good to let the music speak for itself, but at the end of the day, I still have an article to write. I think it’s rather unreasonable to expect me to come up with words when not even the artists themselves can. I’m always up for a challenge, though, and thus began the quest. During the intermission I questioned various members of the audience: “How would you describe this music?” Strangely enough, everyone I talked to chose to describe not so much the music, but the way it made them feel: “When you’re hearing it, you accept that you’re just living and that you can take your time.” “It gives you a sense of life.” “Touches the heart.” “The music takes you along.” Remy was walking around in a blissful daze declaring, “I feel like hugging everyone in the audience!” One audience member used the term “authentic”. In a sense, maybe this is the best sort of description for what we heard, because their music was so much about communication – with each other and with the audience, spontaneous and unguarded.
As a young boy in Colombia, Edmar learned to play both the traditional Colombian harp and the trumpet, before he moved to New York City at the age of 16. In New York, he wanted to study jazz on the harp, but as there was no jazz harp program in existence at the time, he completed his jazz studies on the trumpet and then transferred what he had learned to the harp. His technique on the Colombian harp bears little resemblance to that used by classical harpists. In the right hand, he plucks the strings with his fingernails, allowing him great facility to execute melody lines or rapidly repeating chords, while anchoring his wrist on the soundboard. His left hand is constantly dampening the strings with the heel of the hand, the fingers angled up, to create a rhythmic bass line.
Eric Vloeimans is one of Europe’s best trumpet players. His playing is not restricted to any particular style, and he is a master of improvisation and of creating his own original music. This great versatility served him well for this concert. After merely one hour of rehearsal the day before, the two musicians were nonetheless so well coordinated with each other on stage that it seemed they had been playing together for years. The trumpet sang with such a wide range of tone colors that at times it sounded as raw and intimate as a human voice. Despite what one may assume, the two instruments were a very successful combination. However, Eric insisted that the instrument he was collaborating with – whether a piano, a guitar, or even a harp – was not an issue. All that mattered to him is the person behind the instrument, and that the music be something he can dance to.
Many times throughout the show, Edmar made reference to God. Outside the hall during intermission, I caught him and said, “I didn’t realize you were so religious.” He interrupted me as I had barely finished speaking the last word. “Ah, not ‘religious’. It’s all about the ‘relationship’, my relationship with God.” Start calling it religion and you tend to lose sight of that fundamental spiritual aspect, amid all the side issues of the various doctrines. It was nice to be reminded of this. One of my favorite pieces that evening was a gorgeously introspective piece entitled ‘Jesus de Nazareth’, which Edmar wrote as a gesture of thankfulness for everything in life that he has been given. I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but the music helped me as well to reflect on everything I have to be thankful for myself, leaving the evening with a pleasant after-taste of serenity and fulfillment.