After five years in New York City, Canadian guitarist Alex Goodman has established himself as a rising star and significant voice in the jazz mecca, recording and performing with artists such as John Patitucci, Dick Oatts, Ari Hoenig and Charles Lloyd. For “Second Act”, Goodman’s fifth album, the guitarist has gathered together a gifted group of peers; Matt Marantz on saxophone, Eden Ladin on piano, Rick Rosato on bass, and Jimmy Macbride on drums. There are also guest appearances from vocalists Felicity Williams and Alex Samaras.
Right from the off, it’s obvious we are listening to some very high quality jazz musicians here. There’s an ease to their playing that suggests a skillful intelligence and musical poise that will serve them all well for many years to come. Guitarist Goodman and saxophonist Marantz appear to work particularly well together, the pair sharing solos throughout the eleven tunes on this recording.
I have mixed feelings about this album as a whole. The first three tracks; “Questions”, “The First Break”, and “Departure”, are all good, solid jazz numbers, performed with a consummate ease. And yet to my ears these tunes lack any real inspiration. To say they are ‘Jazz-by-numbers’ is way too harsh, but there’s nothing here that grabs the listener with an inventive edge. The solo guitar of track four acts as an enticing intro to the fifth track “Losing Cool”, but the excitement dissipates somewhat as the tune develops. But then, wow, the writing goes super-cool, the performances step up several gears, and the resulting music well and truly has lift-off! “Empty” is one humdinger of a jazz tune. Catchy licks, awesome melody and hi-octane playing from all involved. And it gets even better. Listen beyond the first few minutes and the tune spins on its head into a wonderful guitar/sax dual of sorts. This is so inventive and creative, it makes my jazz heart pound with pleasure. The joy continues with “Heightened”, a tune that pulsates with its own cosmic atmosphere. And then we have the awesomeness of “Sharon”, a spellbinding tune that could make the listener think they’re enjoying hearing Pat Metheny and Chris Potter belt out the latest “Unity Band” number. And then we’re kind of back to where the album began, good, solid jazz, but nothing more, with “Welcome To New York”, “Apprehension”, and the above average album closer “Acrobat”.
And so, to sum up, “Second Act” has moments of brilliance, but unfortunately these moments have to fit in between some well performed yet fairly uninspiring music. But it’s worth it for the brilliant bits, most definitely. Alex Goodman has once again proved he is a very talented musician indeed. And if he can focus on his more outside-the-box writing skills, as heard on the three aforementioned tunes, the world could be his oyster.