Mitchel Forman: Very Early

It's no secret that I consider Mitchel Forman one of the most underrated jazz pianists of the last 25 years. He has spent formative time playing with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter and other important artists. But his true musical worth is best found in his projects as leader. He is an extremely gifted technician, a wonderful composer and possesses a musical mind that produces some of the most interesting improvisation I have ever heard. He is also well aware of his influences and finds time to honor them.

Forman takes Bill Evans's lovely waltz "Very Early" on an aggressive jaunt. His block chords develop a substantive theme that leads to a swing approach of a tune that Evans most often played as almost a fragile lullaby. Importantly, Forman is joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, both pivotal players in Evans's trios. This trio attacks the piece with an energy that connotes their true respect for Evans. They are putting out. At one point, Forman and the band do tone things down a bit to play with some of that fragility I mentioned earlier. But they quickly return to the faster tempo. I suppose these three could have played "Very Early" much in Evans's style. But what would be the point of mimicry? A better tribute is to take the man's tune and create from it. This they have done.

April 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Matt Savage: Father's Day

Matt Savage

The problem with being a prodigy is the same as everything else about childhood: you're bound to outgrow it. And then what? Pianist Matt Savage is the latest in a long line of jazz prodigies that includes Mary Lou Williams, Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Cyrus Chestnut and Eldar, although Savage's acclaim has surpassed theirs at a similar age. What distinguishes Savage even among prodigies is his disability. One of fewer than 100 so-called "prodigious savants" in the world, Matt has, thanks to various therapeutic regimens and his and his family's fortitude, heroically overcome Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a high-functioning form of autism. At age 3, Matt couldn't stand the slightest noise, much less music. By age 7, he was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, soon to be launched into such media celebrity as only People magazine and NBC's Today show can confer. (As violinist Edith Eisler has perceptively written, "Even a prodigiously talented child becomes a 'prodigy' only by being put on public display.")

By early 2008, however, with release of the 15-year-old's eighth CD, Hot Ticket: Live in Boston, a note of caution was definitely in order, for not every prodigy who dazzles as a child finds a place as an adult. There've been some spectacular burnouts, such as pianist Ervin Nyíregyházi, whom Schoenberg called "the new Liszt" but who ultimately wound up listing badly on L.A.'s Skid Row. Moreover, Matt Savage is fast approaching an age where people will stop marveling at such precocity in a developmentally disabled boy, and start comparing this engaging young man to his peers, such as Eldar. That's where it gets thorny.

As the catchy, good-natured shuffle blues "Father's Day"—a representative track from Hot Ticket—makes clear, gifted as Matt Savage is, his music comes nowhere near the hype so lavishly bestowed upon it. With occasionally erratic execution and attendant lapses in rhythmic concentration, Matt's performance is very much what you'd expect from a poised, talented 15-year-old, but by no means justifies all the "genius" accolades swirling around him with the speed of a well-oiled PR machine.

Only time will tell whether Matt Savage can withstand the perils of prodigy and attain artistic maturity. For now, we can but celebrate his remarkable spirit, and wish him all the best.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments


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