Musical evolution is a beautiful thing to experience, and it’s been nothing short of exhilarating vibing along with the way the freewheeling jazz muses have taken hold of onetime prodigy Matt Savage’s imagination. As exciting, progressive and wildly adventurous as Matt Savage’s most recent funk-soul-jazz-rock fusion albums Splash Variations and The Groove Reawakens were, the multi-talented, ever-curious pianist/composer pretty much alluded to the fact that he would eventually be expanding his focus beyond those explosive excursions by releasing them under the moniker Matt Savage Groove Experiment.
While he assures us this group is still an active entity, it's great to hear him once again – after ten years – unleashing his full power as leader of a traditional jazz ensemble. While he playfully called his 2013 quintet album A Bigger Celebration, the title applies even more to the sparkling dazzle, emotional and improvisational fire and tender intimacy he brings to his latest collection, a session aptly and emphatically titled The Whole Package!
Featuring one holdover – the always-inventive alto and soprano saxophonist Mark Zaleski – from that earlier album – along with the tight, funky and supple rhythm section of Greg Loughman (bass) and Zak King (drums), the rhythmically eclectic 11-song, 75-minute journey is by far Savage’s boldest, most ambitious and impactful – dare we say dramatic – recording yet. While the booming drum intro and speedy, burning acoustic piano bop on the expansive, whimsically (and perhaps autobiographically) titled “The Savage Life Chose Me” sucks our senses in from the get-go, Savage’s deeper artistry pops in a few tracks later on the lyrical, mid-tempo “It’s Time To Renew,” which features his hypnotic and shimmering old school soul-jazzy electric piano between Zaleski’s spirited soprano runs.
Alternating between breakneck electric solos and his trademark acoustic flow on three of the set’s feistiest jams – the bustling swinger “Hit It Harder!,” the booming, intensely mood-swinging “About a Girl” and the sly, bluey seduction “Speed Limit 55” - Savage makes a major case for being his generation’s Joe Sample. Other irresistible entry points into the pianist’s post-30, post pandemic mindset are the charmingly elegant and soulful “The Next Dancer,” the cool and breezy “Pondside Waltz” (highlighted by one of Savage’s most luminous piano solos) and a tender, heartfelt exploration of Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe in Spring.”
Long unshackled from his early days as a media-heralded prodigy, Savage, truly The Whole Package! when it comes to jazz innovation, continues to expand his creative scope and take his vision to the next level – and the next.