Robert Gomez steals spotlight in wild circus 

Ask anyone who's been in the music business for a while, and they'll tell you it's a three-ring circus filled with clowns, magicians, high-wire acts and animals that have no problem biting the hand that feeds them. Fortunately for Robert Gomez, he's seen the real thing up close, preparing him for all the travel and disappearing acts a musician faces in pursuit of a buck.

It's been a five years since his five-month tenure under the big top working for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The job offered him a bridge between his time in New York chasing the dream of becoming a jazz guitarist, and his return to Texas, where he's quietly polishing his career as a singer/songwriter who's attaining new luster on his third release, "Pine Sticks and Phosphorous."

"My job was a really weird one in that I would be playing all the time, playing a lot of Eddie Van Halen-like guitar solos," Gomez said. "I did it really over-the-top, so my last day at Madison Square Garden, I decided to play guitar behind my head and with my teeth, in my sequined vest and bow tie. That was the best."

These days, his music is more understated, sketched in with light atmospheric touches and a sonorous sonic flow recalling his jazz background. Violin, cello and French horn contribute to the musical sophistication, as Gomez channels dulcet baroque warmth on tracks like the instrumental "October Third Post," and the shambling, organ-driven "Middle of Nowhere," with its gentle '60s pop undertones.

Lyrically, he continues to hone his approach, striving for less narrative and something more evocative than descriptive. His words are largely suggestive, trafficking in images that waft through his airy vocals and drift across delicately burbling arrangements keyed by his finger-picked, classically inflected guitar work. He spent more than a year writing the lyrics after finishing the album's music in sessions with producer Matt Pence (Centro-Matic).

"It takes work to get there because they're abstract concepts in the very beginning. You're going for a feeling that you get from a series of words that evoke an image or have a certain rhythm or meter or softness," Gomez said. "I'm constantly revising."

Part of his fastidiousness about the words may come from the fact that he's relatively new to songwriting. When he first heard Charlie Parker, his imagination was inflamed " it blew his mind. He started playing bebop guitar and went on to study jazz at the University of North Texas in Denton. Eventually he and several others, including Norah Jones, moved to New York to seek their fortune, but for most of them, it wasn't in jazz.

After four years, he returned to Denton having given up his dream of playing with Wynton Marsalis, "not because I couldn't, but because it wasn't calling me anymore," he said. "What was calling me was what I'm doing right now, and I didn't need to be in New York to do that."

Robert Gomez with The Separation perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford in Norman. "Chris Parker

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