Shai Maestro – Human
(ECM 0890670. CD Review by Jon Turney)
This is a dazzler, full of lyric beauties. For his second release on ECM Israeli pianist Shai Maestro expands his normal trio of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ofri Nehemya with US trumpeter Philip Dizack. He proves a fine foil for the leader, his horn sound as varied as the young pianist/composer’s approach to the keyboard.
From the brief opener Time, with its floating piano, hesitant trumpet peals, cymbal wash and bowed bass, Maestro deploys the band’s resources adroitly. Their sound is cleverly tailored to each tune, while still coming across as a unit of co-explorers. Maestro’s compositions are each distinctly different. He comes across as a writer who begins with a feeling he wants to express and finds the musical means. That involves limpid solo piano on Compassion, the trio joining a suitably low-key deliberation on Prayer, or the full quartet. Similarly, some pieces leave plenty of room for improvisation, while the rapid, complex lines of GG, played as piano and trumpet unison, are presumably through-written.
This approach allows for handsome tributes. Hank and Charlie, a nod to Hank Jones and Charlie Haden’s landmark collaboration on hymns and spirituals, Steal Away, conjures the sound of that great duo to perfection. And there is a divertingly clattery rendition of In a Sentimental Mood offered as the sole standard. But the main business is working with Maestro’s other new compositions.
Their classical inflection, and richly atmospheric variety, invites comparison with many past ECM releases, from Jarrett to Tomasz Stanko, and this group looks well in that light. This effort isn’t flawless. They Went to War, evidently a threnody for the victims, dips into cliche with its marching drums, and finds Manfred Eicher overdoing the reverb – an emotional nudge on a tune that would be more affecting without it.
But that’s a rare lapse. The set overall displays a luminous talent to great effect, and one intent on developing in new directions.