When the 2012 edition of the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival kicked off Thursday afternoon, the opening slot went to a young performer from Orlando and his band. With dread locks tucked up under his backwards cap, Savi Fernandez and band put themselves on the map that day with a soaring performance that served as the perfect festival opener. With enthusiasm and a smile a mile wide, Savi showed everybody he had been properly schooled in the three Rs (reggae, rock and R&B).
Although I had met him several times previously, that was the first time I actually saw the Savi Fernandez Band perform. I was knocked out. The group had recently recorded their first studio album, Sweet Butterfly. It’s a great listen to this day.
And now we have album number TWO, ready for release April 28th. From My Heart is a sheer delight, a sonic masterpiece and a perfect snapshot of the band’s live performances. Studio albums often do not do bands who jam much justice, but this recording is absolutely spot-on. With each successive listen, I smile thinking about a particular live performance of a song I’m hearing, lovingly rendered here.
I cannot pretend to be objective, because there is a real emotional connection involved. Savi and I had an exchange at the Snarky Puppy/Motet afterparty with Serotonic and Displace. When he saw me, he said, “How did you like Snarky?” They were great, and I said so, but then I added, “But I really dug The Motet.” Savi smiled that smile, and he touched his heart and nodded. And I had an epiphany. Savi’s music, his passion, comes from the heart. I would say that about most of the musicians I know. I always hope that my writing comes from the heart in the same way, the passion showing through.
So of course Savi named this album From My Heart, because it is. It is all about love in its many forms, pure and simple.
He is joined by drummer Joe Lanna, who has been around for the long haul, having played on the first album as well as this new one. Savi has worked recently with several superb bassists. On this effort, Greg Jungbluth plays bass and also engineered the disk with Savi. That is the basic trio for the CD, enhanced by Danilo Maia on percussion.
Two other men are integral to the recording. Tommy Shugart is all over the disk, primarily on Hammond B3 organ and also on piano and clavinet. And the Hardest Working Man in Central Florida, Christian Ryan, is heard on alto sax, and he plays tenor and baritone here as well. Ryan works regularly with a number of excellent bands, including Holey Miss Moley and Leisure Chief. Shugart is a member of The Groove Orient. Katie Burkess, the excellent vocalist from the Legendary JCs, adds backing vocals on two songs.
This is feel-good music at its finest. If you are NOT smiling and dancing by the end of the CD, please check to see if you have a pulse. The answer is probably NO.
The disk opens with one of Savi’s most recognizable songs (he wrote all of them for this recording), “Opportunity.” If you’ve seen him, then that “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, we’ll show, show that love” refrain is unmistakable. The bouncing reggae lilt is driven by Jungbluth and Lanna so tight they’re glued together. The B3 organ is underneath, and Ryan offers up a great alto solo (with tenor overdub). Savi’s got you now, and you’re already smiling ear to ear.
The title track gets loving treatment, a ballad with organ and bass pumping along, followed by a great guitar solo. Savi excels in clean guitar lines, every note popping out for us to enjoy.
“One Minute” is a reggae tune with another Ryan alto sax solo. “I want to spend my life with you, girl. Give me one more minute, girl!” Savi’s voice is just so smooth, perfect for this music.
Romping reggae rock spills out on “Smooth Movements,” with a sick guitar solo, again crystal clear, working into a wah-wah frenzy. Jungbluth is all over the disk, but he really stands out on this song. The message is crystal clear: “We all need to love one another.” It’s ALL about love!
“Dreams” is a beautiful, uplifting reggae tune, with more alto from Ryan. He and Savi fit together musically like a pair of gloves, interwoven.
A brief one-minute intro called “Viva” leads into another of Savi’s signature songs, “Viva La Tierra,” which he sing en Español. There are plenty of Latin influences in Savi’s songs in addition to the three Rs! The organ is prominent on this bouncy reggae song with vocals from Katie, who also sang on “Dreams.” Savi’s solo is a contained explosion, the overdubbed horns underneath.
“Shake That” is straight out of the Meters’ New Orleans School of R&B with another tasty guitar solo. The funk is strong with this one, and the rhythm section section of Junbluth, Lanna and Maia is killing it.
Those who have seen Savi will absolutely know the song “Blessed” and probably swear it’s their favorite (it certain is mine). The driving ska tune is relentless in its drive, and the lyrics are… divine. “Blessed are those who walk in righteousness…” Ryan’s baritone helps to drive the main groove, and then he takes a ridiculous alto solo. This might be Ryan’s finest work on record. A knock-out!
“Skunk” is an instrument that in concert gives the band an opportunity to stretch out at a romping pace. This is more Meters funk, with alto and organ. This is truly one hell of a sextet. Savi reminds me often of guitarists from Grant Green to Eddie Roberts, with that beautiful clean distinct sound.
“Gotta turn a brand new page,” sings Savi on “Forgive, Forget and Love,” another beautiful ballad, with Ryan on alto and Shugart on organ, plus a great electric piano solo.
The disk closes with that bouncy Marley-style reggae on “Rockin’ and Rollin’:” “I just want to sing every night and day.” You go right ahead, Savi.
No need to mince words here. I love Savi Fernandez and his music.
The CD was recorded at Sun Ray Studios in Orlando. Ryan arranged all of the horn charts. The cover is a gorgeous watercolor courtesy of Adrienne Nicole Designs, in honor of Haile Selassie I, the Lion of Judah, and an homage to Bob Marley and the cover of his single “Iron Zion Lion.” It’s a work of art in and of itself.
The Savi Fernandez Band performs May 9th at the 2nd Annual Reggae on the Block with Tribal Seeds, Iration and Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, May 15th at Orange Blossom Jamboree. They will do a CD release Island Tour starting in May with their first show in the British Virgin Islands at Foxy’s in Jost Van Dyke and the U.S. Virgin Islands kicking off in mid-May, followed by a stateside CD release run in June/July.
From the Heart is available for preorder on iTunes and GooglePlay. You can find those links on Facebook:
Photos courtesy of David Lee / Gypsyshooter and Adrienne Nicole Designs