Across his two previous albums, Marcus Goldhaber skirted the perimeter of jazz vocalism, evoking the spirit of Chet Baker while never quite capturing Baker’s ethereal charm. Almost Love finds him settling instead into a pop-folk groove—equal parts James Taylor warmth and Art Garfunkel fragility—that feels both more authentic and more compelling. Shaping all but one of the arrangements with his longstanding musical partner Jon Davis, Goldhaber employs the same fine trio—Davis on piano and B3, Martin Wind on bass and Marcello Pellitteri on drums—from 2008’s Take Me Anywhere, and welcomes top-drawer guests including saxophonist Joel Frahm, guitarist John Hart, cellist Erik Friedlander, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and New York Voices’ Lauren Kinhan.
Unfortunately, the playlist, all Goldhaber originals (five written with Davis), proves less lustrous than the assembled talent. His 13 musings on love in various stages are consistently good but rarely great. Sure, he turns a nice phrase while favoring old-school, moon-June sentiments, but there’s little here that hasn’t been better said. When, however, he rises above tried-and-true tropes, the results are impressive. The one-sided infatuation of “Almost Love” has a Lennon-McCartney feel, the swingin’ “Somebody in Love” ably captures the panicked excitement of a blossoming romance, and the shyly anticipatory “What If” is as inventive as it is lovely.