As I know from personal experience, certain surnames elicit an ironic sense of expectation. Any pianist named “Maestro” surely needs to be doubly at ease with their art, and fortunately this gifted young Israeli-American has always made light of a potential deadweight. A regular in bassist Avishai Cohen’s band between 2006-11, he has also shone in the quartet of drummer Mark Guiliana and continues to lead one of the most exciting piano trios of recent years.
Maestro’s ECM debut came on Theo Bleckmann’s 2017 release Elegy, and at the time I hoped it might open the door to a solo career at the prestigious label. He’s a perfect fit with Eicher’s primary stock-in-trade, and his searching lyricism and great storyteller’s gift are instantly at home on this stunning set of largely original new material.
In Lugano’s prized Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Maestro reportedly had a choice of two Steinway D pianos, and after some deliberation selected the instrument with the slightly darker tone. He unveils a new trio in which regular Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder is joined by drummer Ofri Nehemya, who replaces the remarkable Ziv Ravitz. While the departure of Ravitz might be viewed by some as quite a significant loss, Nehemya’s somewhat more conservative approach suits the programme well.
Opening with a short solo performance of Israeli singer Matti Caspi’s “My Second Childhood”, the album begins in suitably wistful and romantic fashion. Nehemya makes his entry on “The Forgotten Village”, cueing up a fleet and devastatingly effective LaFaro-esque solo from Roeder that works cleverly against the grain. “The Dream Thief” is slightly less nebulous in form, with the trio deftly handling numerous switches between free and rhythmic passages. “A Moon’s Tale” and “Lifeline” restore the disc’s strong cinematic narrative, while the dancing sways of “New River, New Water” provide the most radio-friendly music of the set.
Perhaps saving his biggest surprises until the last, Maestro radically deconstructs “These Foolish Things”, while fragments of Barack Obama’s powerful oratory concerning the seemingly insoluble issue of US gun control are woven into the poignant rhetorical question, “What Else Needs to Happen?” A sombre interruption to Maestro’s reverie, but one which nevertheless shows the broad emotional range within the trio’s very approachable and markedly human music.
My Second Childhood; The Forgotten Village; The Dream Thief; A Moon’s Tale; Lifeline; Choral; New River, New Water; These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You); What Else Needs to Happen (49.00)
Shai Maestro (p); Jorge Roeder (b); Ofri Nehemya (d). Lugano, April 2018.
ECM 677 1112