Three distinct musical worlds run through Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s DNA, a quality that separates him from pure neo-soul, the label that tends to follow his output around. The Brooklyn native and first-generation child of French and Colombian immigrants is informed by both parents’ experiences; growing up, he heard classical composers like Bach and Debussy alongside the cumbia and salsa legends of his father’s native land. Outside their house, on the streets of New York, he consumed a steady diet of hip-hop and pop greats: Prince, J Dilla, Sly and the Family Stone. “All of my impulses come out of taking trips to Colombia, growing up in New York, and feeling more at home with salsa music and all that, combined with encountering American funk music and r&b,” he tells the Voice. “[That’s] what’s responsible for all my rhythms.”
Garzón-Montano is about to release his debut album, Jardín, his first release since the 2014 EP Bishouné earned him widespread accolades. The LP is his first for Stones Throw Records, the California label known for avant-garde hip-hop acts such as MF Doom and for neo-soul singers such as Mayer Hawthorne. Garzón-Montano’s sound isn’t close to hip-hop, but it’s made its way there — he’s a longtime friend of Lenny Kravitz’s daughter, Zoë, who gave the EP to Drake; a sample of Garzón-Montano’s voice from his song “6 8” showed up on the rapper’s “Jungle.” That thrust Garzón-Montano into the spotlight, earning him new fans as well as sales on iTunes, but it also gave his music a dimension that wasn’t necessarily something he’d hoped for. In a 2015 interview for Complex, he expressed gratitude to Drake for his role in catapulting him to success, but also revealed a desire to get out of the hip-hop star’s shadow.
On Jardín he manages to do just that, further fleshing out his influences and expanding on the sound he began to devise on Bishouné, the one that got Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf interested. Where the EP featured a weightier, more psychedelic ambiance, Jardín takes a cinematic approach, adding a rich bed of strings to tracks like lead single “Sour Mango” and album opener “Trial.” Garzón-Montano creates an urgency by focusing on percussive elements, and in his singing he’s perfected a tenderness and vulnerability that complements the introspective themes of the album’s lyrics.
“Jardín definitely comes in peace,” he says. “I’m not trying to be aggressive or dark, and I’m definitely not trying to put anybody down or bring myself up in any way. There’s a real focus on beauty.” Hip-hop and soul have taken a backseat to the “impressionist harmonies” that his mother, who was a member of the Philip Glass Ensemble in the 1990s, played for him from childhood (and that he learned to write himself in studies at SUNY-Purchase). His South American heritage, meanwhile, hums underneath, with Brazilian tambourines and side-sticks holding down the rhythm section (Garzón-Montano plays the guitar, drums, and bass on all his records).
This combination gives Jardín a modern but timeless quality. Garzón-Montano’s longtime producer, Henry Hirsch, chalks it up to the artist’s keen ear. “Gabe is incredibly precise and knows exactly when his music is right or wrong,” Hirsch says. “I’m there as a backup. I’ve known him as a producer for many years, but I let Gabe produce his own music.” Hirsch recorded Jardín to tape at his New York studios, where he’s worked previously with Kravitz père and Michael Jackson. He and Garzón-Montano share an interest in analog recording techniques, which produce a classic-soul warmth that Hirsch thinks is responsible for attracting an artist like Drake.
As for Garzón-Montano himself, he delights in the contradiction of it all: retro versus modern, old world against new. It jibes with his upbringing. “I think my music comes from a very different place geographically,” he says. “It comes from America, but I’m a first-generation American, and my parents really didn’t have an American experience….I think there’s something in the subconscious that pushes this stuff onto the world that just has a different experience.”
With CE, Space People (DJ set)
Music Hall of Williamsburg
9 p.m., $15—$18
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 24, 2017