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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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Shai Maestro

The Dream Thief

ECM 2616 [48:12]



My Second Childhood (Matti Caspi)

The Forgotten Village (Shai Maestro)

The Dream Thief (Maestro)

A Moon’s Tale (Meastro)

Lifeline (Maestro)

Choral (Maestro)

New River, New Water (Maestro)

These Foolish Things (Strachey, Maschwitz)

What Else Needs to Happen, for Ana (Maestro)

Shai Maestro (piano)

Jorge Roeder (bass)

Ofri Nehemya (drums)

Rec. Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano (Switzerland), April 2018

Shai Maestro was born in Israel in 1957; he began playing classical piano at 5, attended the Thelma-Yellin High School of the Performing Arts in Givaryin. He later won a scholarship which enabled him to attend a five-week summer course at Boston’s Berklee College of Music; he was offered a scholarship which would have allowed him to become a full-time student at the College, but he decided not to take it up. Soon after taking that decision, he was invited by bassist Avishai Cohen, in 2006, to join his trio. He worked (and recorded) with Cohen until the summer of 2010, before forming his own trio, touring and recording a series of albums –Shai Maestro Trio (2012), The Road to Ithaca (2013), Untold Stories (2015) and The Stone Skipper (2016), for relatively small labels, such as Motéma Music and Laborie Records. In 2018 he signed with ECM and this is his first album for that distinguished label. It is a very impressive ‘debut’ – this is a trio made up of one Maestro at the piano (the leader’s surname name is unironically appropriate), and two other maestros on bass and drums – bassist Jorge Roeder, originally from Peru, was born in 1980; Israeli drummer Ofri Nehemya (like Maestro an alumnus of the Thelma-Yellin High School of the Performing Arts) was born in 1994.

Every track on this album repays (as it demands) attentive listening. The predominant mood is introspectively lyrical, though the trio can certainly swing when it chooses to. Some passages sound like free improvisation, but the mutuality of these three musicians means that even in the freer episodes the music remains readily accessible. It would be otiose to comment on every track, so I will discuss just a few of what, to my ears, are the highlights.

‘A Moon’s Tale’ is appropriately nocturnal, at times sounding almost Debussy-like, in its chromaticism and its evocation of strong visual images. At my first hearing, ‘The Forgotten Village’ seemed to speak of mysterious loss, but on later listenings it has seemed concerned with something whose recovery might threaten its very insistence, and with the complexities of memory. Nehemya has a prominent role on this track, pushing the tempo and being generally quite assertive, but Maestro’s work at the keyboard complements – and exploits – the patterns created by the drummer. The piece as a whole has a certain darkness. Whatever the tempo, Mestro never sounds hurried and there is a consistent refinement to his playing.

All of Maestro’s own compositions on the album are played by the full trio. The two non-originals are played by Maestro alone. The first of these solo tracks ‘My Second Childhood’ opens the album. The theme is by Matti Caspi (b. 1949), an Israeli popular singer , composer and lyricist, with whom the young Maestro had some lessons – so Maestro’s choice of this tune is in part a kind of homage to one of this teachers and, since there is a slight Middle Eastern tinge to the tune (which Maestro doesn’t over-emphasise) it is also a musical memory of his homeland. The result is quietly beautiful, almost meditative. The second solo track is a version of ‘These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)’. Maestro plays what sounds like an improvised intro and treats the original melody with a kind of respectful infidelity, while never forgetting the original chords, in very persuasive act of re-creation. One day, Maestro – still young – will surely make an outstanding solo album.

Elsewhere ‘Lifeline’ is a beautiful romantic theme, though not without an edge of bitterness, which moves with a very attractive lilt. It is on ‘New River, New Water’ (are we meant to think of Heraclitus – “We both step and do not step in the same river”?) that the trio sounds ‘freeest’ – as the performance picks up speed and intensity. Nehemya is again a forceful presence here, but there is also some intriguing interplay between Maestro and his long-time bassist Jorge Roeder.

Looking back over what I have written, I find that having promised to comment only on the highlights of this album, I have discussed (however briefly), 6 of its 9 tracks (and I feel guilty that I haven’t mentioned the brilliant title track). Indeed, there is only one track which seems to me to fall below the generally very high standard. This is the final track: ‘What Else Needs to Happen, for Ana’. The music is a beautifully played elegy – prompted, it appears, by the murderous shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. One of the 20 children killed was Ana, the beautiful (do an image search) six-year old daughter of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene – hence the dedication. Maestro’s composition and performance are powerfully elegiac. But I think that the decision to embed extracts from two speeches on gun control by President Obama within the texture of the music was a misjudgment. The words and the music distract attention from one another, rather than being fully integrated. I wonder if the impact might not have been greater if one extract had been placed before the music and the other after it?

But the presence of one slightly ‘disappointing’ track (though, of course, its sentiments and attitudes can only be applauded) doesn’t significantly detract from what is, in short, one of the very best jazz piano trio recordings I have heard in the last few years, one in which heart and mind, feeling and thought, are inseparable. And, perhaps needless to say, with Manfred Eicher in charge, the whole is beautifully recorded.

Glyn Pursglove


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