Guitarist and composer Alex Goodman, Canadian born and raised, moved to the United States in 2012 after the release of his Quintet album "Bridges". Since his arrival, Goodman has worked and/or recorded with bassist John Pattitucci, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, and drummer Ari Hoenig (among others). In 2014, he won the Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition and recorded an album of "Etudes for Solo Guitar" (self-released).
His new recording, "Border Crossing" (OA2 Records), stays focussed on the "Chamber Music" sounds of his previous two recordings and expands the composer-arranger's musical palette. He's replaced the saxophone and piano with the voice of Felicity Williams and the vibraphone of Michael Davidson, filling out the ensemble with Andrew Downing (cello, bass), Rogerio Boccato (percussion), and, on three of the seven tracks, Fabio Ragnelli (drums). Ms. Williams breathy voice blends nicely with the instrumentalists. Right from the opening cut "Acrobat" which starts with just acoustic guitar and percussion (sounding like a Ralph Towner composition), she creates a softer elegance when matched with the guitar, cello and vibraphone. Her wordless vocal rise above the ensemble on "Family Breakfast", paired with the vibes on the opening melody (reminiscent of the folk-jazz of the British group Pentangle). The leader, on electric guitar, digs into an exciting solo, pushed by the active percussion and drums of Ragnelli and Boccato. The pace slows for a restatement of the theme and then moves quietly into a fine vibraphone solo. Pay attention to how the rhythm section (with Downing on bass) push the piece forward.
A pair of excellent covers are included in the program. Goodman's delightful arrangement of W.A. Mozart's "Eine Kleine Gigue" captures the playfulness of the original, spreading the melody around the different voices while adding a counterpoint for guitar and vibes plus a cello spotlight. The final track is a wondrous arrangement of "Pure Imagination", the Anthony Newley - Leslie Bricusse song from "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory." Again, it's a playful take with the different voices of the ensemble moving in and out of the solo section - when the musicians move back into the lyric section of the song, Goodman does so with a classical (and delightful) flourish. Listen closely to how the musicians create the "sound of wonder."
The album is filled with moments that capture your ear, seducing you into really listening closely. The "conversation" that the vibes and guitar engage in at the start of "Collateral Damage", how the voice moves in-and-out of the forefront on "Style Brisé" (a piece that highlights the brilliance of Boccato's percussion), and the percussive work of Goodman, Boccato and bassist Downinn the opening of "With Thanks", a song that opens wide to feature the guitarist's most impressive solo as well as an animated percussion solo. Ms. Williams also stretches out several times through the piece (which you can watch below).
"Border Crossing" is a major step forward for a young musician with such great promise. Alex Goodman can certainly play his instrument but, on this new album, it's his songs and arrangements that capture your attention. This is music that makes you want to open the windows and let the breezes clean out the house. Enjoy!