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New Album From Guitarist Jose Gobbo, Current



JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to guitarist Jose Gobbo about his new album, Current – and about his influences.

Jose Gobbo grew up with Brazilian music.  In 2011 he moved from Brazil to Iowa to work on a master’s degree at the University of Iowa, and later to complete his doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Today, he is active in central Illinois as a performer as well as a teacher. In February Jose will release his newest CD Current.

JB:  What inspired you to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

JG:  Like most normal humans, I started playing guitar because of rock. The transition into jazz started when my best friend started discovering and showing me musicians like Marcus Miller and Jaco Pastorius. Another turning point was imagining John Coltrane’s sheets of sounds being played on a guitar with distortion. Later on, I started appreciating Wes Montgomery because of his sense of taste, refinement, and expressiveness. 

JB:  The University of Illinois has a fine music department, was Larry Gray teaching guitar there when you were a student? 

JG:  Yes, Larry was there and I did study with him. He still is a wonderful source of inspiration, beyond music. We played a duo gig recently in which he played guitar, accordion, and flute. We have a trio gig coming up with him on bass.

JB:  To you, what are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why? 

JG:  Wes Montgomery – Full House.  The first thing that most people think about Wes is the octaves thing, however, he would still be the best even if he only played single lines. In Steve Lacy’s book, he says that Wes’ level of fluidity is “almost” equal to Sonny Rollins. In my opinion, I would remove the word “almost”.  His intro to “I’ve grown accustomed to her face” showcases some of the masterful work he can do unaccompanied. I wish there were more solo guitar tracks by Wes. I can only think of one now, “Mi Cosa”, which has a studio version, and also a live radio broadcast.  On Full House, Wes also plays the blues, which is present in every album of his, and burning fast lines on S.O.S, which we don’t see as often. His version of “The Way You Look Tonight” is incredible, and it is hard to believe that we are not listening to Pat Martino.

Jim Hall – Live! (1975).  The interplay with the rhythm section is fantastic, and they build each tune together.  Jim Hall makes the best choices regarding texture. There is so much drama in the way he alternates space with chords and single lines.  Jim’s style is a bridge to more modern styles. He loved Django Reinhardt and did sound a little like that, but he also incorporated elements of bebop and classical composers from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of the ultra-modern sounds that Herbie Hancock played in the 1960s with Miles Davis were already present in classical compositions from decades before. I think there was a lot of information passed from Jim Hall to Pat Metheny to Kurt Rosenwinkel to everyone else today.

Kurt Rosenwinkel – Deep Song.  I feel like there was so much hype about Kurt Rosenwinkel in the early 2000s in New York that most guitarists there are a bit tired of that. I wasn’t there then, so the hype for me is still huge. There are so many wonderful guitar players in jazz history, but not all of them had an appeal beyond the guitar community.  Kurt Rosenwinkel blends elements of pop/rock songwriting with jazz in a very organic way. The same elements in other people’s hands can sound corny. The compositions on Deep Songhave many sections that take you on a journey. The guitar is in the center, but everyone else also shines.  The harmonies are complex, but he is still able to tell a compelling story on each solo. I love that the guitar playing here is not technically perfect: there are little glitches, but he always manages to make a very intelligent musical choice out of it, which makes it better than perfect.

Guitarist Jose Gobbo

JB:  Tell us about your goals in making your new album Current.  

JG:  I have been playing a lot with this trio with Max Beckman on bass and Jay Ferguson on drums, so the first goal was to document that. I don’t know if we are ready to take the entire jazz world by storm and all that, but I’m confident that we deserve more performance opportunities in the Midwest. This album can showcase our potential and open doors. 

Everybody talks about how suited to music the Portuguese language is. I already had a few tunes with lyrics by Brazilian composer Deuler Andrade, I noticed we were close enough to having enough for an album, so I decided to send him a couple of extra tunes, to which he set words almost instantly. Singing is not my strength, but I love singing along with Joao Bosco, Joao Gilberto, and Toninho Horta. I knew it would be a different game once their bands and voices were taken away and I had to sing by myself, but although my singing is far from technically exuberant, having composed the tunes on “Current” gives me a certain advantage.

JB:  Yes, this doubling of your guitar line with your voice, how did you develop this style of performing?

JG:  I’m glad that Toninho Horta is not more popular in the U.S.A, otherwise everybody would notice instantly how much I copy from him. That is one aspect.   I am much more used to playing instrumental music on guitar rather than singing. However, sometimes singing along makes me feel more connected with the lines I’m playing. It can’t be just fingers if you’re also singing. Most of the tunes on “Current” were intended to be instrumental, however, the habit of singing along while practicing made it a smooth transition to sing along after they became songs with lyrics.

On a not-so-flattering note: With the recording equipment we had available, it would be a lot easier to record the trio first and add vocals later. Since I wasn’t so confident that I would be able to sing it properly by myself, the guitar lines are there so I can have a reference point. On live performances, I experiment more with textures.

JB:  Drummer Jay Ferguson and bassist Max Beckman are a great rhythm section.  What do you appreciate most about them as players?

JG:  I first connected with Max while living in Springfield IL. He gave me something that I had been craving for years: someone to get together at random times to play tunes and eat pizza.  The first time we played a trio gig together was magical, their musical sensibilities clearly matched.  Max has a sophisticated sense of harmony, and Jay has the patience to listen until the music decides where it wants to go.

JB:  Talk about the influence of Brazilian folk music in your compositions.

JG:  During my first years of music college in Brazil, I was much more interested in American jazz musicians. I’m from Minas Gerais (a state in central Brazil) and was living in Sao Paulo, at some point, the songs by the composers from Minas started making me feel connected to my roots. After being out of my country for about 13 years, that feeling grew exponentially.

When I first started playing guitar, everything that came from the U.S.A. seemed to be better than the Brazilian stuff. My perspective started shifting later on: intellectually, I started noticing that imperialism played a huge role in how I felt because of what was available, and how it was labeled. Emotionally, a Toninho Horta song can make me feel things that a Bob Dylan song can’t, and I don’t think I have time to even begin to try explaining it now.

JB:  What do you appreciate most about the main guitar you play? 

JG:  It’s a Hohner SE 400, not expensive.  I got it in 2006, and it still works! With heavy strings (0.13) the higher register is still expressive. The neck fits my hand nicely, and it sounds good unplugged, so I don’t have to get through a bunch of gear before getting to the thing that really makes me sound better: Practicing.

JB:  As a gigging musician, talk about the jazz scene in your part of Illinois and the kind of places where you play when you travel.

JG:  It is weird, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a world-class faculty, which theoretically would inspire a thriving student scene, but I don’t see that.  After my 2021 release “Live From Home” with The House Trio, I contacted venues all over the Midwest and decided that anywhere within an 8-hour drive was a go. I’ve been driving a lot since. I live between St. Louis and Chicago, and both cities fascinate me. Sometimes it is great to travel with Jay and Max and showcase what we’ve been developing together, but other times it is also wonderful to try to mingle with scenes in the big cities. 

Money is always a paradox. I’m more stable since I started teaching full-time at the Arthur School District and part-time at EIU, but it is tricky to manage the schedules, plus parenting.  I believe it takes a huge dose of insanity to pursue a career in music at this point, and I’m happy to be on this boat. 

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