“Maybe I’ll play the game / And trade my trust for fame / And still be just as lonely.” So goes the sombre refrain of ‘Trial’, the opening track on Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s debut album. Through these introspective lines, he sets the tone for his record; a forty-minute foray into a melting-pot of soul, jazz, cumbia, hip-hop and P-funk. At once lusciously dense and minimal, all is unified through Garzón-Montano’s self-harmonising vocals which tell of social commentary, imagined landscape, and personal journey.
Raised in Brooklyn by parents of French-Colombian heritage, Garzón-Montano was encouraged by his mother, a musician and member of Philip Glass’ ensemble, to take up an instrument at the age of six. His instrument of choice was the violin, which he studied until he was 13, expanding his repertoire from there to include the drums, guitar, keyboards and much more since. Speaking to Garzón-Montano in an interview for Clash (to be published shortly, keep checking back) it is clear that this musicality was no mere hobby but a vocation from the beginning. Having studied at the prestigious Laguardia High School for the performing arts, an institution whose alumni include jazz drumming royalty Omar Hakim and Billy Cobham, he spent his formative years absorbing influences as wide-ranging as Jeff Buckley and James Brown to strive towards creating a sound of his own.
Such musical training and an upbringing amongst the varied street music of New York is distilled to an essence on ‘Jardin’. Its opener, ‘Trial’, pairs those plaintive lyrics that are distrustful of the ‘game’ of the music industry and perhaps the entirety of modern society with streaking strings that reflect Garzón-Montano’s previous experience as an arranger. Its sparseness makes it an unusually vulnerable beginning to a record, but one that draws the listener in to Garzón-Montano’s songwriting world, a place where the majority of the instruments are played by himself and meticulously tacked direct to tape with the help of analogue expert Henry Hirsch. This painstaking attention to detail and striving for an authenticity of recorded performance paints Garzón-Montano as a lone auteur in the style of D’Angelo, Prince and Stevie Wonder. It is also a theme reflected in those opening lyrics on removing oneself from the world to live in isolation.
Through such isolation comes complexity. The record’s lead single ‘Sour Mango’ is a perfect example of Garzón-Montano’s intricate melding of rhythm, incorporating cumbia hand claps with the boom-bap beats of hip-hop production, all sitting beneath lyrics that interweave a love-sick narrative with natural imagery. Garzón-Montano stated in our interview that some of his lyrics are thinly-veiled social commentary, from the dehumanising of society on ‘Fruitflies’, to criticism of the consumerism that so dehumanises on ‘The Game’. Yet, pairing his clarity of lyric with a soulful minimalism in the production throughout gives the record a consistency which lends an acuity to his statements. With ‘Jardin’, Garzón-Montano seems to achieve a rare blend of songs that are repeatedly enjoyable to listen to whilst imbuing these same tracks with an element of deeper meaning.
There are moments where ‘Jardin’ falls down somewhat though. The slower tracks on the record — ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Cantiga’ — while soothing, feel out of place among the bounce and funk of their counterparts. ‘Jardin’ is also no departure from Garzón-Montano’s first release, 2014’s EP ‘Bishouné: Alma del Huila’, but rather a continuation of theme and sound. Perhaps it is his self-imposed musical exile which has created a sound that some listeners may find repetitive whilst others meaningful in its persistence, and yet it is a sound that Garzón-Montano is making his own after only two releases. The greatest creative skill seems to manifest itself in the capacity to apply change with consistency — something that Prince and Stevie Wonder were adept at — and only the next record will tell in which way Garzón-Montano will choose to apply this change, if at all.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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