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Boston Weather: 55.0°F | Fog/Mist

Ron Savage Trio shows strong potential in concert

Ron Savage Trio
Willow Jazz Club.
March 5.

By Dave Fox
Staff Reporter

Local drummer Ron Savage brought his trio to the Willow Jazz Club in Somerville Friday night and performed two sets of very listenable, straight-ahead jazz. For this engagement, Savage was joined by pianist Anthony Wonsey and bassist Ron McWhirter, filling in for usual bassist Richie Goods.

The Willow Jazz Club is a very unusual venue. Imagine two 30-foot storefronts side by side. The one on the right is a typical neighborhood tavern, complete with a full-length bar, dart boards, sports on the TV, and a few regulars parked on bar stools. The one on the left is a tiny jazz room, with album covers pasted to the wall, tables surrounding a performance area, and Berklee students rapidly scribbling notes. Together, these two rooms form the Willow Jazz Club. (If you make a mistake and enter the door on the right, you'll think you're in the wrong place.) In spite of its humble appearance, the Willow presents some big names in jazz, and is always a good place to hear some good jazz in an intimate setting. Friday evening was no exception.

Savage, a 1984 Berklee College of Music graduate, and his trio serve as the rhythm section for saxophonist Christopher Hollyday. These three men perform well as a trio, presenting a repertoire of standards, and the occasional original piece. Pianist Wonsey, who is only 20 and still a student at Berklee, displays a keyboard mastery and musical imagination beyond his years. Savage has a smooth drumming style which supports the other two musicians and sets the "mood" of the individual piece being played, and an ability to play dramatic solos. McWhirter did a good job of covering Goods' bass parts, on short notice.

The first tune I caught was "It Could Happen To You." This featured Wonsey playing a beautiful, moody introduction, after which Savage and McWhirter entered to establish a quick groove, with a nice piano melody and good drum accents. McWhirter offered a bass solo to round out the piece. The next piece, "So What," featured McWhirter playing a introduction consisting of bass figures answered by the piano and drums. This lead to a quick bebop groove, featuring good interplay between Wonsey and Savage. Wonsey offered a magnificent, technically demanding piano solo, played with such authority that it sounded almost effortless. Savage also performed a clean drum solo, featuring very quick bass drumming and precise stops. The intro was repeated to end the tune.

In honor of the bad weather, which made for a small crowd, the trio played "It Might As Well Be Spring." This was a beautiful ballad, once again featuring Wonsey's fluid piano work. Savage and McWhirter provided a very good backup for the piano, with excellent "mood" setting drumming (with brushes) and a smooth bass that blended with the piano so well that it was almost imperceptible. McWhirter offered an understated bass solo that fit the mood of the piece well. The sound picked up in intensity, ending in a piano "coda" that sounded almost like a celeste.

Later in the set, the trio offered their version of "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" This took me a while to identify, as Wonsey re-harmonized the Louis Jordan standard with some complex chord voicings. The melody dissolved into some thoughtful piano improvisation, followed by a good bass solo. This was followed by four-bar solo riffs tossed out by each player in turn.

The trio followed this with the ballad "Old Folks," which opened with another beautiful piano introduction. The other two players entered, with Savage once again establishing a moody feel with his brushes. Wonsey offered a complex, moving piano solo, follow by another bass solo. After re-establishing the melody line, the trio fabricated a sweet-sounding ending, with McWhirter using a bow on his bass. To provide a contrast the trio ended the set with an upbeat tune, which featured a quick introduction that lead to a very fast double-time groove. Savage offered a thoughtful drum solo, during which he slowed the tempo down quite a bit, only to speed it up again at the conclusion of his solo. This was an interesting effect, and was followed by re-establishment of the groove proceeding to a dramatic ending.

Overall, the Ron Savage Trio presented three hours of very high-quality jazz. Although it didn't break any new ground, the sound was well-molded, and displayed virtuosity, especially in view of the fact that their usual bassist was absent. Wonsey in particular showed great potential, and should develop into a first-rate innovator and leader. This trio's smooth sound make them a good group for any jazz fan to hear, but especially for those listeners unfamiliar with jazz.