Matt Savage, a young man who knows his way around a keyboard (a child prodigy, he recorded his first album, Live at the Olde Mill, when he was barely nine years old), has added a new twist, namely soul / funk, to Splash Variations, the thirteenth recording under his name and first as leader of the Matt Savage Groove Experiment. Variations, which comprises half a dozen songs (five written by Savage) and runs for thirty-eight minutes, is labeled an EP (or what was known as an LP in the long-ago era of needles on vinyl).
Savage's remarkable back-story has become rather well-known by now: diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (a form of autism) at age three, taught himself to read music and play the piano at age six, was in a recording studio within three years, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now a grizzled twenty-six-year-old maven, Savage has earned degrees from the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music in Boston and put them to use as a composer / arranger while touring the world as an in-demand soloist.
Always looking for new challenges, Savage expanded his core trio to form the six-member (plus vocalist) Groove Experiment and add variety and color to his music. On Splash Variations, Savage has chosen to open with one of the more exquisite love songs ever written, Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein II's "All the Things You Are." Not a bad choice, one might assume. Unfortunately, in this case, the song's lovely sentiments are ill-treated by the humdrum rhythm, even more so by Robbie Pate's anemic vocal. Savage and tenor Aaron Gratzmiller do their best to right the ship but it is listing too far seaward to respond to their summons.
Pate is a touch less intrusive on his other outing, Savage's "Show Me the Way," but that may be because the lyric is far less alluring and congenial than "All the Things." There is another "vocal" of sorts on the bright and playful "#SPLASH," but it is by the group en masse and consists of the single word "Splash." Drummer Juan Mejia is especially effective here, and he and bassists Soso Gelovani (track 1) and James Heazlewood-Dale keep the rhythm snug and under control elsewhere. Savage has an opportunity to display his chops on "Splash in G Major," with trombonist Michael Wang (on recorder) and guitarist Javier Rosario adding their voices to the mix. Savage's melodious "Arigato" and earnestly rhythmic "IDGAF" wrap up a debut that shows promise but could have benefited from a wider range of mood and tempo and especially from more of Savage's always colorful and impressive keyboard designs.
All the Things You Are;
Splash in G Major;
Show Me the Way;
Matt Savage: piano, keyboards;
Aaron Gratzmiller: tenor sax (1, 2, 4-6), soprano sax (3, 5);
Michael Wang: trombone (2, 6), recorder (3);
Albino Mbie: guitar;
Javier Rosario: guitar (2, 3, 6);
James Heazlewood-Dale: bass (2-6);
Soso Gelovani: bass (1);
Juan Mejia: drums;
Robbie Pate: vocals (1, 4).
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