Shai Maestro ‘Human’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Pianist and composer Shai Maestro expands on his previous ECM trio release “The Dream Thief”, with the addition of trumpeter Philip Dizack. Once again featuring bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ofri Nehemya, “Human” further explores an inquisitively lyrical atmosphere that has made Maestro one of the more interesting pianists in the last decade. Maestro’s music is continually evolving, and trumpeter Dizack is well matched for this trio, his often gentle, thoughtful playing enhancing the feel, the textures and colours, to the composer’s tunes. “Philip’s trumpet playing sounds to me like a human voice speaking to you,” says Maestro, “and adding him to the trio takes us to our next level. It’s like we found a secret gear in the car all of a sudden. It’s a whole new adventure, and I absolutely love it.”

As ever, Maestro takes his music forward while also respecting its sense of tradition. The album comprises almost entirely original pieces, exploring, as we have come to expect from the pianist’s music, a broad range of temperaments and colours. A musical storyteller at heart, it’s not surprising that Maestro continues to search for new dimensions and adventures. Often hidden within his tunes are little gems that dance and sparkle, like occasional glimpses of the sun passing over ghostly, untouched shadows.

Trumpeter Dizack varies his style of playing with consummate ease, allowing for Maestro’s trio to shine, injecting energy and sparkle around the often glorious melodies on offer. On the wonderful opener “Time”, the trumpet tends to mirror the melodies, whereas on “Mystery and Illusions” the improv is free-flowing, matching the title with a keen exuberance. The title track “Human” is filled with an emotional pull that is both yearningly beautiful yet hauntingly mesmeric. “I played music for many years,” says Maestro, “trying to make it ‘above’ life- an isolated experience where I looked for transcendence, s sort of escape from everyday life. But the more I play, the more I understand that the very act of trying to reach this state prevents it from happening. So I started accepting music-making as a part of my everyday experience.” To my mind, the pianist’s music is all the more compelling for this change in focus, none more so than on the incredible “The Thief’s Dream”. This piece reflects a warmth between the players, a keen understanding and a willingness to adventure out into the unknown, whilst at the same time drawing on a grounded experience that allows the quartet to produce some of the most captivating music on the album. Another highlight for me is the beautiful “Hank and Charlie”, a feature for the bandleader and bassist Roeder, paying tribute to two of Maestro’s musical influences. “Hank Jones and Charlie Haden are my heroes,” says Maestro. “Their finesse, minimalism, storytelling and sounds are breathtaking. I have been obsessed for many years with their album of spirituals and hymns “Steal Away”. Though I’m not a religious person, I wrote this piece thinking about a kind of worship song, a prayer. It is my way of expressing my gratitude to two giants of this music.” The thoughtful, simple elegance of “Compassion” leads into the more open, searching interplay of “Prayer”, and the captivating “They went to war” reminds me of another ECM trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, with its melancholia dripping like rainwater from a tilted roof. The one jazz standard on the album “In a sentimental mood” references the version played by its composer Duke Ellington in his 1963 collaboration with John Coltrane.

With “Human”, Shai Maestro adds to his list of releases that offer inquisitive, searching piano-led music that is well crafted and adventurous in the keenest sense. His eloquent and virtuosic playing works particularly well within this current trio/ quartet setting, leading me to think that hopefully there is more to come from this group in the future.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Shai Maestro Trio ‘Untold Stories’ (Motéma) 4/5
Shai Maestro ‘The Dream Thief’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5