The Alex Goodman Chamber Quintet
@ Jazz Bistro, Toronto
April 30th, 2015
On what would be the first of three nights at the Jazz Bistro, rising star jazz guitarist Alex Goodman brought in his newly formed chamber quintet to showcase its unique brand of classical-meets-jazz improvisation. The series of gigs was also part of the TD Discovery Special Projects series as well as a future CD recording of this unique ensemble.
The first thing that stuck out about this quintet was its unique instrumentation of vibraphone, acoustic guitar, voice, cello and percussion. The artists collectively improvised and blended together musically while showing their virtuosic talents of each instrument. The repertoire played was different as it combined originals, classical music, and film music as vehicles for exploration and improvisation.
Among the originals, the opener “Acrobat” allowed Goodman to show off his Spanish flamenco influences with his guitar stylings, and the percussion elements provided by Rogerio Baccato shifted from bossa nova to high-energy flamenco. Vocalist Felicity Williams showcased her creative and melodic voice by treating it like an instrument that complements the ensemble effectively. Vibraphonist Mike Davidson employed the four-mallet technique, playing creative solos and accompanying as if he were a piano player, and Andrew Downing created light and airy bass lines on the cello as if he were playing an upright bass.
In its varied repertoire, the quintet does a creative and note-for-note arrangement of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Keeping to that arrangement and utilizing its unique instrumentation brings a dreamy, magical quality to the music. The standard “Darn that Dream” is treated as a classically-influenced reading, with a moving arrangement and William’s strong vocal reading. An obscure standard, “Out of This World,” shifts from samba to swing, with effective and groovy solos by the ensemble and an arrangement that takes the standard into exploratory places.
Among its classically-influenced pieces, the quintet took Scott Joplin’s “Solace” into a vehicle for collective improvisation, bringing in the Spanish tinge through Baccato’s percussion and all band members contributing their unique voices to transform and bring light to the unique piece. They even did Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” in the form of a tango, showing there are no boundaries between the worlds of jazz and classical music. In Goodman’s two guitar etudes, “Chorale” and “Song Without Words,” the interplay between voice and guitar is heavenly and sets a pensive, religious tone for the presentation of the music.
Listening to Goodman and his colleagues as a chamber quintet was a fresh, new, creative, and musically stimulating experience. The instrumentation is different, the repertoire is varied, and the performances are sensitive and well executed to a discerning audience.