Shai Maestro ‘The Dream Thief’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

Israeli pianist Shai Maestro has gained useful experience from work with his fellow native and bassist, Avishai Cohen, and this promising debut on ECM, recorded in Lugano, is an early glimpse of what lies ahead for his career as a leader. The warm introspection of ‘The Forgotten Village’ hints at the more reflective side of Esbjörn Svensson and features subtle percussive work on rim drum from Ofri Nehemya and fine all-round ensemble performances. Of interest also is the melodic shuffling drum patterns on the title track which begins at a slow tempo, but gradually develops into a medium-quick tempo, and it is in fact the graceful nature of that gradual transition that impresses here. On future solo projects, Shai Maestro would be well served in varying the pace of his own compositions in this manner. On the opener, ‘My Second Childhood’, a composition by Matti Caspi, the pianist solos throughout, and in fact the album as a whole is bookended by two solo piano performances, lending something of a Romantic classical feel to proceedings. Of the latter piece, ‘What Else Needs to Happen’, the title is a specific reference to the Sandy Hook school shooting and contains excerpts of a Barack Obama speech while still president in both 2015 and 2016. Given recent events in California, that debate is sadly very much an ongoing one. In the midst of the album, ‘Choral’ is another solo vehicle, while bassist Jorge Roeder has the opportunity to shine on the reposing, ‘A Moon’s Tale’, with a crescendo of cymbals by Nehemya being a fine way to end the piece. All but two pieces are originals penned by the leader, but the standard, ‘Those Foolish Things (remind me of you)’, includes an extended piano solo from Maestro and betrays the influence of Keith Jarrett. Accompanying the inner sleeve details are black and white photos of the musicians in the studio.

Tim Stenhouse