Shai Maestro: Human

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When I reviewed Shai Maestro’s 2018 ECM leadership debut The Dream Thief it was almost inevitable that his searching lyricism and great storytelling gifts would feature in the narrative. The Israeli-born pianist is after all one of the freshest talents of his generation, cutting his teeth with Avishai Cohen and Mark Giuliana before making his mark as a leader. Yet I also noted the very “human” and unforced nature of the trio’s interchanges, a theme which Maestro picks up in his release notes for this eagerly anticipated follow-up. Speaking of the risk that the meticulous process of composition can stifle creativity if it is allowed to become too idealised, he is happier to allow his music to gain character in performance and simply “let it be”.

Augmenting Maestro’s Dream Thief trio is versatile post-Milesian trumpeter Philip Dizack, who formed close musical bonds with the leader while working with him in New York. All bar one of the pieces are Maestro originals, but it proves to be a reworking of Ellington and Coltrane’s 1963 arrangement of In A Sentimental Mood which brings the biggest surprises. It starts with a stripped back hip-hop beat. The skeleton of the melody is riven through an ever-changing sequence of twists and turns, Dizack finally pulling the threads together with his plain statement of the classic theme. If contemporary musicians are to add value to the canon of jazz standards, this is surely how it should be done.

Elsewhere there is an evocative set of vignettes commissioned by the Jerome Foundation/Jazz Gallery, and pick of the bunch is Maestro’s homage to the warm rapport of Hank Jones and Charlie Haden. The hymnal title track may be brief but it has a truly magnetic grandeur, while the rapid-fire interactions of Maestro and Dizack on GG brought to mind the under-rated pairing of Rainer Brüninghaus and Manfred Schoof. The baleful They Went To War fully encapsulates the sorrow and futility of conflict, while closing track Ima has flashes of Jarrett-like brilliance and finds Maestro at his most reflective.

All told, Human is a fabulously varied collection, and far from disrupting the trio’s remarkable chemistry, the inspired addition of Dizack only serves to enrich the conversation.

Discography
Time; Mystery And Illusions; Human; GG; The Thief’s Dream; Hank And Charlie; Compassion; Prayer; They Went To War; In A Sentimental Mood; Ima (56.00)
Maestro (p); with Philip Dizack (t); Jorge Roeder (b); Ofri Nehemya (d). February 2020, Pernes-les-Fontaines, France.
ECM 0890670