Shai Maestro Trio ‘Untold Stories’ (Motéma) 4/5

shai-maestroWhen he was just 19 years old, Israeli born pianist/composer Shai Maestro began a five year stint recording and touring with bassist Avishai Cohen. In 2010 Maestro moved to New York City and created his acclaimed trio with Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder and Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz. In addition to recording and touring the world with his trio, the pianist has also been receiving positive responses from the press, audiences and peers alike, with him recording and performing with Mark Guiliana, John Patitucci, Donny McCaslin, Ari Hoenig and many others. It would seem his talents are in demand and on “Untold Stories”, the trio’s third release, it is easy to see why.

Shai Maestro is a creator of moods, a shaper of atmospheres and a sculptor of sound. The music throughout this album has a distinct feel to it – one of poetic exploration. “Untold Stories” is deceptively simple; the more you listen, the more you discover. The pianist appears to have entered a new phase, taking time, fearing less, daring more, accepting the occasional stumble and allowing the music to change and be representative of who the musicians are as people, be that good or bad. Maestro elaborates; “What happened to us on the road in the last few years is basically a shift in our state of mind. What I want to do today (and also to hear from other musicians as well), is to express who I am, and who we are as human beings. There are many sides to our personalities. Not all are beautiful. So music can and should contain everything; beauty, ugliness, love, violence, etc. This is much more raw and honest than what I have done so far.” Maestro’s comments certainly ring true, not only on this album but also having reviewed the excellent Mark Guiliana release “Family First” this year, on which Maestro features as part of Guiliana’s quartet, I would say he has continued this honest, open approach and that his playing has now taken on an almost profound sensibility that is both wholesome and beautifully natural.

Recorded live and in studios in Brooklyn and Paris, “Untold Stories” comprises eight tracks, all written by Maestro, or co-written between the trio. “Maya’s Song” is one such tune, written by the trio whilst preparing for a tour, this compelling piece of music that is startlingly fluent and melodic kicks off the album in style. It’s both exciting and thoughtful, a frequent combination throughout the recordings that at times leaves the listener gasping for breath, or pondering life’s frailties, depending on the mood and tone of the tune. “When You Stop Seeing” is a stunning work of art – musically speaking it is dark and light rolled into one, a beautiful piece of music. Looking into the inspiration for the song, it becomes even more poignant, as Maestro explains; “This composition was written during the last armed conflict between Israel and Palestine. As an Israeli, I was born into this reality of conflict and that’s the only thing I knew until I started travelling and eventually moved to New York. During the horrible violence of the last ’round’, I was exposed to the voices coming from within Israel and Palestine via social media etc. One of the things that really bothered me is how people referred to people on the other side as “The Palestinians” or “The Israelis”. We know this reality very well here in the U.S. with racism, sexism, etc. and I feel that people forget that we are human beings before belonging to a place, race, etc.” A sentiment many of us I’m sure would echo. There’s an obvious mutual trust between the band members that’s very evident, especially on a couple of tunes. “Looking Back (Quiet Reflection)” is all about time, space and simplicity. The trio are a unit, three minds as one. This track has a curious edge to it, one that suggests the band are experimenting whilst keeping a lid on things at the same time, creating and inquiring of each other whilst performing in unison. “Shades” is another piece of music that seems to offer reflection, and yet still feels as if there’s an element of curiosity to it, one that takes the trio into slightly more abstract territory. The pianist’s ability to play with patterns and produce a richness of expression is evident on the wonderful “Treeology”. Intense and virtuosic, the threesome perform with patience and passion. “Painting” shows a statement of intent from the band, with an excellent drum solo benefiting from a rare musicality that shines a light on the trio’s confidence and ability to enthrall and surprise.

All in all a splendid album from a trio growing in stature and a pianist who appears to have not only found his mojo, but also his place in the world. If he continues on this path there can only be more goodness to come.

Mike Gates