Shai Maestro: Human (ECM 2688)

Shai Maestro
Human

Shai Maestro piano
Jorge Roeder double bass
Ofri Nehemya drums
Philip Dizack trumpet
Recorded February 2020, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover: Mayo Bucher
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 29, 2021

After making his ECM leader debut with The Dream Thief, pianist Shai Maestro returns with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ofri Nehemya, adding to their mix trumpeter Philip Dizack (in his debut for the label) for a sound that feels as solitary as it does tapped from the veins of collective experience. If this album’s predecessor was a reflection of past harmonies, this follow-up holds a mirror to the future. Forward-looking tendencies are immediately apparent in “Time,” which after a clear opening thesis dissipates into the gentlest of body paragraphs, and (speaking of mirrors) “The Thief’s Dream,” wherein new secrets abound. In these blushes of information, window-framed views outline the possibilities of constant change. Similar atmospheres in the title track and the brief “GG” uphold chance encounters as examples of purposeful living.

If any glimpses of permanence are to be caught, one might find them in tracks like “Hank and Charlie” (an elegiac tribute to Hank Jones and Charlie Haden) and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” (the only tune here not written by Maestro). By focusing on ephemeral subjects, they reinforce the solidity of what’s left behind in the process of memorializing them. The same holds for the album’s deepest moments, reserved for such master narratives as “Mystery and Illusions,” which further highlights the musicians’ strengths. From the gentle way Dizack lays down the theme like a parent transferring a napping baby from arms to crib to the graceful drumming and piano aside, and Roeder’s dancing synchronicity drawing a thread through it all, the band’s sense of touch makes a statement of its age, for the ages. Like “Compassion” (a solo offering from Maestro) or the concluding “Ima” (a wonder to behold), it is a new level of music making that must be heard to be believed.

(This review originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Shai Maestro: The Dream Thief (ECM 2616)

2616 X

Shai Maestro
The Dream Thief

Shai Maestro piano
Jorge Roeder double bass
Ofri Nehemya drums
Recorded April 2018, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 28, 2018

The Dream Thief is Shai Maestro’s welcome leader debut for ECM. First heard on the label as sideman for Theo Bleckmann’s Elegy, the pianist now gets the full thermals of Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI studio to lift his wings skyward.

Although the lion’s share of composing credit goes to Maestro, two outliers peel back personal layers of his craft. “My Second Childhood,” by Israeli singer-songwriter Matti Caspi, opens the set with palpable nostalgia, a feeling of not only reviving but reliving the past with fresh eyes. Like the standard “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You),” he plays it solo, as if to hold only himself accountable for every vulnerable detail. As Maestro himself notes: “The tremendous history of jazz is a great inspiration but also a great challenge. We each have our own individual gift, which is the choices we make—whether we turn to major or minor, whether we play pianissimo or fortissimo at a key moment. I always try to remember to embrace history while not trying to be anything or anyone else—to let the music come out of me.”

With regard to his own writing, he lives up to his surname in concept and execution. The holistic narratives of “The Forgotten Village” and the title track are allowed to expand their lungs before communicating a single concept. Nehemya, a recent addition to the group at the time of this recording, is a revelation of subtlety throughout, and Roeder’s soloing is the perfect complement: buoyant yet open, comforting yet daring, extroverted yet welcoming. As a rhythm section, they treat shadows and brighter persuasions with equal care, giving every note a surface on which to run.

As for Maestro’s playing, one need only witness what he does with a simple ostinato in “Lifeline” and a balance of synchronicity with Roeder in “New River, New Water” to feel guided along a true path of discovery. Between these are the parabolic connective tissues of “A Moon’s Tale” and “Choral,” both of which elicit a oneness of medium and message while gifting something sacred.

All of this makes “What Else Needs to Happen” an especially hard-hitting conclusion. Written for saxophonist Jimmy Greene’s daughter Ana, a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, it stencils excerpts from President Obama’s speeches on gun control from 2015 and 2016 over a prayerful theme. More relevant than ever, it magnifies the need for conversation in a world with tape over its mouth. Let this music, at least, be the first step toward ripping it off.