Shai Maestro – The Dream Thief (2018)

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Shai Maestro was already living up to his flattering last name when we first noticed him as the pianist in Avishai Cohen’s trio back in ’08. He would stay with Cohen for three more years before striking out with his own trio, and after leading dates for smaller labels he’s caught the keen eye of ECM boss Manfred Eicher, who signed him up to Eicher’s fabled imprint.

The Dream Thief ECM Records is the resultant debut, and while some things are the same (Jorge Roeder remains the bassist) and some changed (Ofri Nehemya replaces Ziv Ravitz on drums), Maestro enters this phase as a recording artist as a full realized talent. All that’s really left to discover is how Eicher’s control room perfectionism enhances what is already there.

The Maestro and Eicher partnership unfolds in the opening seconds of Matti Caspi’s “My Second Childhood,” a precisely played piano with heavy classical overtones where the mix positions the notes nearly on the listener’s lap. Like that opening track, Maestro leans on his classical background to bring a finely attenuated cinematic quality to “A Moon’s Tale.” “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” is Maestro alone again on the only other non-Maestro original, his characteristic effervescent diction on display.

Nehemya makes his introduction by playing percussion on his drum kit, an odd-metered cadence adding an air of mystery barely underneath “The Forgotten Village.” Ravitz assumes a co-lead position alongside Maestro and quickly shows the chops and engagement to justify his aggression. In a buildup and release segment, Nehemya is able to ratchet up the tempo with one hand and maintain the original one on the other, and Maestro’s mood is introspective, slightly on the dark side.

Maestro distributes his notes in a “The Dream Thief” like each one of them counted, sounding particularly balletic against the backdrop of Nehemya’s brushes. But that’s just the first leg of this journey: the trio dances on Roeder’s taut bass line in second section, capped off by Maestro liquid, vibrant but not overly loquacious phrasings. Roeder’s remarks guide the song back to the ground. “New River, New Water,” like the titular track, schemes a larger role for Nehemya in infusing the rhythm deeper into the fabric of the song. But the symmetry between Roeder and Maestro is also is palpable, as is the mounting enthusiasm embodied in shouts from the leader as the performance gathers momentum.

“What Else Needs To Happen?” was inspired the Sandy Hook massacre, which took the life of the young daughter of Jimmy Greene, a colleague of Maestro’s. Forget about the technical and harmonic wizardry so conspicuous on the rest of the album, this track was made to make the listener reflect, think and never forget the poignancy of that and other similar tragedies. To drive the point home, Maestro dubbed in speech parts by President Obama expressing sadness and exasperation at the normalization of senseless mass shootings in American society.

A rare combination of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, the piano of Shai Maestro is nicely complimented with maestros on bass and drums; Eicher is the final piece of a beautiful partnership. The Dream Thief goes on sale September 28, 2018.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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