It is much easier to talk about artistic freedom than it is to fully realize it. As artists, our ability to conceptualize and express new ideas is hemmed by the boundaries of our own knowledge and experience. Breaking through those boundaries and achieving a level of expression which can be considered truly free requires time and dedication. It is precisely this coalescence of time and dedication, spurred on by unfettered passion for musical expression, which is embodied by the latest album by Pablo Embon, Nobody’s Land.
The entire album is a panoply of color, with every song featuring unique variations of tone and depth. Though Embon’s sonic palette includes elements from a wide range of musical styles, the end result of his efforts is a cohesive and vibrant journey which takes us across the world and back – what else could be expected of a musician whose 35-year career has spanned a geographical range extending from Argentina to Israel?
When I say that this album is a journey, I’m not being hyperbolic. Well, okay, maybe a little hyperbolic – it’s not like my couch started to float and then took me on a sky-bound joyride while singing “A Whole New World.” Nevertheless, where I began was not where I wound up, and at the end of it all, I’m left with too many memories to reasonably fit into one article. With that said, I’ll leave you with just a few of the highlights.
In just the first few bars of the opening track, “Dragonfly,” it sounds as though I am being guided through a dense tropical forest straight into a theater auditorium where red velvet curtains rise about an island sunset. I hear the seamless interweaving of Latin percussion rhythms and orchestrated Standard harmony, both laced together with an energetic piano solo that incorporates elements from both styles. Though the piano playing is undeniably impressive, it is the inclusion of a tasteful nylon-string guitar solo mid-way through the song which reminds me that I’m listening to an accomplished multi-instrumentalist with decades of experience under his fingertips.
Though this album clearly speaks to extensive Jazz background of Pablo Embon, it never fails to transport me to completely new and unexpected places. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the fourth song of the album entitled, “Wistful Smiles.” With the steady ebb and flow of the pentatonic arpeggios in the piano, I feel as though I’ve been lifted into the night sky with the clouds rolling below me (my couch may also have been there). Light and dissonant piano fills dance like stars across the top of this soundscape, bringing an air of mischievousness which gradually grows more dramatic in anticipation of the completely unexpected rock-guitar solo.
No sooner has this stormy rock-ballad begun than I’m being slammed head first into an LA Jazz club, only to then have the walls fall out and reveal that the club was on a speeding airship the entire time. Then, just when I think I’ve gotten my bearings, the piano comes in with some Radiohead-esque material that makes me question whether I’ve ever left my couch in the first place, or if I’ve just been sinking into it beneath a sea of darkly colored LED lights.
Embon further explores the darker side of his voice in the album’s title track, “Nobody’s Land.” A gentle nylon-string guitar pattern set against a haunting harmonic texture orchestrated with synth strings immediately establishes the surreal tone of this dreamlike soundscape. New instrumental textures and rhythmic feels are introduced gradually throughout the duration of the piece, creating a sense of forward momentum which allows the music to steadily build in intensity without abandoning the surrealism and mystery that lies at its core. Not long after the piece reaches its zenith, it plunges back down to the contemplative depths in which it started, creating a narrative arc that makes the song feel as much like a story as it does a piece of music.
As I look back on my journey through Nobody’s Land, I realize that the joy I found there did not come from Embon’s instrumental prowess, although there were certainly many examples of that along the way. Instead, the joy I found came from the spirit of creativity that lay at the center of it all. This album represents the culmination of 35 years of musical experience into one voice. It is a voice whose vocabulary has become so extensive that it can express complex ideas through a stylistic range that is as rich and colorful as the world itself. So I invite you to close your eyes, press play, and let Pablo Embon take you on a journey of your own – you’ll be glad you did.
Keep up with more from Pablo Embon on his WEBSITE
-review by Jaren Cloud