Having released his independent debut album Live at the Olde Mill at age nine and establishing himself as a major presence as a prolific jazz pianist throughout his teens, one of the greatest challenges for Matt Savage has been shaking the “child prodigy” tag.
Launching his wildly adventurous, invitingly retro cool yet dynamically progressive jazz-rock-funk-soul fusion sextet the Matt Savage Groove Experiment in 2018 – two years after his last solo album Piano Voyages, No. 12 – was a bold step towards not only musical adulthood and Savage’s emergence as not only a versatile player/composer, but a visionary artist and versatile keyboardist as well.
His fascinating trajectory continues with the richly lyrical, infectiously melodic, deeply soulful and at times insanely high octane The Groove Reawakens – the ensemble’s first post-pandemic release whose title not only captures the non-stop rhythmic vibrancy and variation but also is a sly sci-fi parody. Engaging in more intricate improvisational solo runs than on the first album, Savage locks in emphatically and organically with Aaron Gratzmiller (tenor and soprano sax), Javier Rosario (electric guitar), Evan Carley (electric bass) and Zachary King (drums) throughout what he calls the “long EP,” which features four expansive originals and fresh, buoyant and fiery re-imaginings of classics by Return To Forever (a vocal version of “500 Miles” High” (with vocalist Robbie Pate bringing soaring passion to lyrics originally sung by Flora Purim) and the 70’s funk jam evergreen “Pick Up the Pieces.”
A unique and exciting way to track Savage’s difference in approach from his solo days to how he interacts with the group is to listen to the original solo piano rendition of the spritely romp “Southie to Soho” on Piano Voyages, No. 12, then check out the harder edged, way more buoyant electric piano-sax-electric guitar driven twist on The Groove Awakens, which features some of Savage’s most dazzling soloing. Savage and Co. dive into their supercharged new slate of sonic possibilities from the get-go, infusing the opener “The Allston Anthem” with frenzy, fire and a speedy, rockin’ and funked up tempo that alternates between 5/4 and 4/4 time.
The group later answers the quirky question “What’s a Nightclub?” with a bustling, tightly grooving trap music tribute showcasing Savage’s aggressive straight-ahead piano and electric keyboard brilliance and the unique way he winds in and around Gratzmiller’s struttin’ sax. The Groove Experiment makes its bid to be the modern-day equivalent of Return to Forever and Chick Corea’s Elektric Band with the sparkling, hypnotic “Escalator Music,” in which Savage bookends a festive conversation with Gratzmiller’s feisty sax improvs with otherworldly solos on electric and acoustic piano. Interestingly, “Escalator Music” is one of the first Groove Experiment songs Savage wrote; now it stands as testament to the band’s powerful view into the future of contemporary jazz fusion.