Here are three new CDs by two exemplary young pianists, Laura Dubin
and Matt Savage
, the first two of which reprise a concert by Dubin's splendid trio at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival in July 2016. The third, Piano Voyages,
is Savage's twelfth recording, the first in which his eloquent piano is the lone instrument. There are other differences as well: Dubin's album, recorded in concert, has the benefit of audience interaction; and unlike Savage, whose program consists for the most part of his own compositions and arrangements, she complements nine of her own songs with popular and jazz standards and classical themes by Ravel, Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy and Mozart. That is not to say that one approach is worthier than the other, only different.
Dubin's performance embodies a number of singular pairings: Ravel's prelude to "Le Tombeau de Couperin" with Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," Duke Ellington
's "Prelude to a Kiss" with Chopin's "Waltz Op. 64, No. 1," Debussy's "Reflets dans L'eau" with the Gershwins' "Our Love Is Here to Stay," her own "Waltz for Bill" with Cole Porter's "It's De-Lovely." What is most decisive is that she is a stylistic chameleon, able to move seamlessly from Ravel or Beethoven to Gershwin, Chick Corea
and Fats Waller
(as she does on his ragtime classic, "Handful of Keys") or to interweave phrases from "Autumn Leaves," "All the Things You Are," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Blue Skies," "In Other Words," "Summertime" and "It Don't Mean a Thing" into Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata No. 8.
Glancing at the material, one might assume that Dubin is classically trained, a premise that is correct inasmuch as that was her starting point before veering into jazz via Charlie Parker
, Oscar Peterson
and others (she nods to Peterson on Disc 1 with her charming "Ode to O.P.," which mirrors Peterson's irrepressible spirit). The blues is out front on her ambling "Doc Z," rhythmic power on "Anxiety," which closes Disc 1. Speaking of O.P., there's a lot of his buoyant nature (seasoned with a dash of barroom piano) on Dubin's "Something's Cookin,'" which opens the second half of the album. Drummer (and husband) Antonio Guerrera solos here, as does bassist Kieran Hanlon
, who for the most part seem quite happy to offer Dubin their unflagging camaraderie and support. As for Dubin, she is marvelous throughout, especially so on her own compositions, "Invention for Nina," "Kelly Green" and the powerful finale, "Barcelona."
The most striking impression gleaned from this inclusive recital is that Dubin is a perceptive, well-schooled pianist, able to bestride all manner of precepts and patterns without flinching, as well as a gifted composer and arranger. She plays with maturity and erudition beyond her years, understanding and respecting jazz tradition while at the same time bringing to bear an ample measure of acuity and resourcefulness. In other words, a special talent who is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Matt Savage's story, even though fairly well known, bears repeating: diagnosed at age three with Pervasive Development Disorder, a form of autism; taught himself to play piano by age six; recorded the first of his trio albums, All Jazzed Up,
three years later; and made his concert debut, age eleven, at New York's famed Blue Note club. Since that time, Savage, now twenty-four, has recorded eleven more albums, always accompanied by small groups, until this one, on which he takes yet another sizable step forward, relying almost solely on his expressive and unerring piano.
The qualifying "almost" is necessary as Savage is joined on one track (guitarist Wes Montgomery
's "Road Song") by the dexterous alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo
, one of Savage's classmates from the Berklee College of Music. Savage wrote eight of the album's eleven tunes (the others are "Road Song," Lennon / McCartney's "Got to Get You Into My Life" and Herbie Hancock
's "Maiden Voyage," on which Savage opens by plucking the piano's strings, pizzicato). Savage's compositions are thematic in that he always has an idea in mind when writing them, from the lush color of "Green" to a mathematical equation in 5 / 4 time ("25 Percent"), a musical prayer ("To the Sky"), the ascendency of computers ("Virtual Blues"), an even-tempered "Lullaby for Boston," a productive bus ride ("Southie to Soho," based on trumpeter Roy Hargrove
's "Strasbourg / St. Denis") and the surreal calmness of "The Day Before," written as an assignment at the Manhattan School of Music, as was a charming assortment of melodic patterns, "The End."
Like Dubin, Savage is at home in any environment, able to make his piano sing, soar or shout as needed, while never overlooking the value of melodic and harmonic consonance. There is no better example of his remarkable proficiency than the closing "Lullaby for Boston," whose gorgeous melody is a pleasure to hear and appreciate. In other words, these Piano Voyages
are smooth, colorful and well worth the trip.