GV: Caribeño Pensador is one of three interludes. It’s a duet between the electric guitar and the Barril de Bomba. The guitar is improvising over a bomba rhythm called Yubá Masón. For me, Caribeño Pensador and (the track) Retorno are important because it’s the most direct interaction between the electric guitar and the Barril de Bomba. When I close my eyes, and I hear the sound of the Barril, it brings me instantly to Puerto Rico. Even though these instruments come from different places, you can hear how well they relate to one another and because I’m from Puerto Rico, my way of playing the guitar is connected to my roots. The last composition, The Mystery of S.T., has elements of (Cuban) Changüí not only in improvisation but also in composition. For example, when I start with the montuno on the guitar and other sections of the piece, the Changui influence is evident. I’ve been studying Changui since I came to NY. When I arrived here, I played with (bassist) John Benitez. He talked a lot about the genre, which motivated me to study it since there aren’t any jazz guitarists doing that. So there is a lot of influence from Changüí in the improvisations where I use the guajeo/montuno to improvise on The Upcoming, A City of Many Mysteries, Definite Purpose, To The Unknown, and The Mystery of S.T.
Pat Lipsky, my mentor at The Art Students League teaches, “all the parts of the canvas are equal.” Also, Schoenberg speaks of creating music without hierarchy and using serialism, which is another style of music I love. I feel the same way about music. Even though the compositions are based on bomba and plena folklore, the percussion is on the same plane as the instruments. Also, the listener hears a wide range of dynamics. I like to think of it as musical democracy!
TP: Well said! I should mention, you composed all the tracks. Also, saxophonist, composer, arranger, Grammy Award nominee, and Mac Arthur Fellow, Miguel Zenon, is the co-producer.
GV: Yes, Miguel co-produced and mixed the album.
TP: Tell me about the band.
GV: On the alto saxophone is Roman Filiú. He’s one of the first musicians I met when I arrived in NYC, so we connected and became friends. Also, he has been a member of my group since 2017. On the piano is Glenn Zaleski, an amazing pianist and composer. I really like his touch on the piano and his sensibility, and he is always listening and reacting. On bass is Rick Rosato. I met Rick through Roman Filiu, who spoke highly of him. Rick is amazing because he is solid with the time and very creative, and always listening and supportive. On drums is E.J. Strickland. I knew about E.J. before I came to NY. Also, I’ve been listening to him and his music so he is one of those musicians I’ve always wanted to play with and also I knew he’s been checking the bomba and plena thing for a while which was very important to me. Last but not least, Victor Román in the percussion. Victor is from Puerto Rico, but we met in NYC during a recording session with drummer Fernando García. We both play in Fernando’s group as sidemen and other groups. Vic is an amazing percussionist and a friend. He is creative and a hard worker.
TP: As evidenced by the powerful cover art, which is your creation.
GV: As a child, I loved the arts. In New York, I joined the Arts Student League of New York and worked with the renowned artist Pat Lipsky. In 2018, I was invited to participate in the group exhibition Dislexia Geografica at The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, which featured a wide variety of artists from Latin America. Currently, I’m working on a project where I’m composing music inspired by my paintings.
TP: No doubt, you are familiar with the series, Pintando Al Ritmo de Jazz, where musicians and painters interact on the same stage. I’m curious to know what drew you to the guitar?
VG: I grew up listening to Soda Stereo, Gustavo Cerati, The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, the Stone Temple Pilots, and The Cranberries. The electric guitar came because rock bands feature electric guitars. I thought it looked cool and sounded terrific. Also, since my brother played (classical) piano, I wanted to learn another instrument. I have vivid memories of walking around at 6 am every day and watching MTV and VH1 music videos. Also, I bought a lot of soundtracks. My mom took me to the movies every Saturday, and cinema has always been a big part of my life. My dad listened to Ismael Rivera, Frankie Ruiz, Hector Lavoe, and Willie Colon. These experiences were a significant influence on my musical sensitivity and taste. When I was about sixteen, I discovered jazz. My first albums were Joe Pass’s Virtuoso and John Coltrane’s Blue Train. I fell in love with the music and especially with the idea the solos were improvised. For me, improvisation was the most important fact.
TP: I understand you are working towards a Doctorate.
GV: Yes, I’m working on my Doctorate at Stony Brook University. It’s a D.M.A. in Performance, in electric guitar, but I’m also concentrating on contemporary classical composition. My mentors are trombonist Ray Anderson (Performance) and Daria Semegen (Composition). I’m also studying independently with the Puerto Rican composer Carlos Cabrer and Lois V. Vierk and working on my next album, which is on the classical side.