‘Pictures I’ve Taken’ - A Dive into the Minimal and Versatile Mind of Jose Benjamin Escobar
>> Jose Benjamin Escobar, a Venezuelan-American composer and pianist, released a new album that is wide ranging with tones of dark progressions and spoken word.
Even though Jose Benjamin Escobar records and produces his own music, he is also a piano teacher. Escobar went to the legendary Eastman School of Music, where he was able to master his skills at piano. He even recorded his first release ‘Recorded Works for Piano’ at Kilbourn Hall.
Escobar currently lives in Queens, but he recently visited Rochester to not only promote and release his new album ‘Pictures I’ve Taken,’ but also to perform a sound-art installation called ‘A Living Room Suite’ at the UUU Art Collective. There, he was able to record music with his friends, which included a few local musicians. The point of this event was for Escobar to create an environment where musicians felt comfortable to record, which is the aesthetic and atmosphere of his new record.
On ‘Pictures I’ve Taken,’ you are treated with a wide-range of grooves with touches of soul and spoken word. There are only five tracks on the new album, but each carry something different. The opening track “Sketching in Pen” opens with a steady piano underlying Escobar’s falsetto vocals and his floating harmonies. Escobar hooks the listeners not only with his opening falsetto, but with his poetry: “Sketching in pen/ten cigarettes on a Thursday/it’s 4 a.m./the next week.” The most essential part of the track however comes towards the end, when the shadowy backing instruments foreshadow the dark ambience and droning that show up later on the album. The next track “Telegraph Ave” is based on a poem written and recited by Savon Bartley. Under Bartley’s voice are well-balanced backing vocals from multi-instrumentalist Beshken and smooth and relaxed cool jazz instrumentals arranged by Escobar. Escobar naturally sings in Spanish under a stable, but dark bassline on the haunting “Alhambra.” Towards the end, the synths become darker, flawlessly transitioning to the eerie and mysterious “Brighton.” With its dark ambient and droning technique upfront alongside Escobar cryptically repeating “We’ll make it through winter,” the obscure track is reminiscent to Escobar’s last work on the experimental and synth-driven ‘Dream Journal, Vol. 1.’ Escobar lays out a soulful, but tragic spoken word on the closing track “A Photo Album.” The whirling piano chords alongside the creeping synths pair perfectly with Escobar’s pure, but gloomy vocals. The piano and synths begin to ascend during the final chorus, but suddenly all fade away. Escobar’s best writing shows up in this track. It's as though he is remembering a past lover like he’s looking at a photo album shared by them.
With only five tracks on this release, we can’t help but want more. And now with everything Escobar has been doing lately, it’s exciting to see what he’s going to bring to the table next and what direction he’ll be heading in. <<
Essential Tracks - “Brighton,” “A Photo Album,” and “Oakland” (feat. Savon Bartley).
Listen to ‘Pictures I’ve Taken’ HERE!
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