well that blustery day in April during Montreal’s Jazz en
Rafale festival, the barely containable delight and enthusiasm
of the capacity crowd as it was discovering and getting swept
away by the Shai Maestro Trio. But I also wondered if their no
airs, uncomplicated approach to music – large sections of
it unabashedly minimalistic -- would hold up to repetitive listening;
in particular, the protracted monophonic compositions that refused
to stray from the opening key signature.
months later, on a balmy summer day, for the auspicious occasion
of their first appearance at the Montreal
International Jazz Festival, those lingering
doubts were excommunicated. They played at the same venue, l’Astral,
and again to a full house, and again to a thoroughly entranced,
Maestro’s music, in the main, consists of carefully wrought
swells of sound, meticulously shaped and contoured in and around
the jazz idiom. A composition typically begins in a quasi nowhere
zone, with a simple teasing of melody that isn’t yet song,
that hasn’t been fleshed out, like some primitive life form
in a petri dish whose different parts are still inchoate.
collective restraint is integral to the ensuing build up and crescendo.
The music evolves snailishly: a simple and repeating 4-note trill
on the piano is floated on a frothy cymbal tap, buoyed by an arching
bass note. Then a left hand piano rumble rises from the depths
as the pedal drum joins the dialogue, and then the bass, radiantly
delivered by Jorge Roeder, abruptly scales the fret board in voluptuous
leaps and bounds until there is no choice but to surrender like
a patient etherized on the table to the rocking and swaying of
billowing swells of sound such that you’re not quite sure
if you’re looking up at the tumult from below or from high.
The dynamic keeps shifting along with the music’s continuously
mutating form, but there is never any mistaking that you’re
listening to jazz.
Ravitz and Roeder have listened to their Bad Plus and aren’t
afraid to take chances and go where too many jazz musicians fear
Shai Maestro thoroughly grasps and deftly exploits the dynamics
of his instrument, and while he is not gifted technically he makes
the ivories speak in concepts that are both clear and catchy.
The trio eschews the use of synthesizers or studio gimmicks for
the moods they create and the momentum they engender. The tinkling
of bells we associate with the cradle or a meditation center is
only one of many voices found in Maestro’s considerable
piano vocabulary of sounds.
Ziv Ravitz we discover that drumming, despite the habitual hammer
and sickle application of drum sticks and mallets, can be a sensual
experience. His gentle rolls, taps and feathery flurries seemed
to be confectioned for his beloved. With the exception of Brian
Blade, I’ve never encountered such a sensuous percussionist,
who, when the moment calls for it, will dispense with the sticks
for the pitter patter of the palm or the scratch of a nail or
rub of the finger to better sculpt the emotions he wants to share.
curious about jazz and looking for ways to cozy up to the genre,
I can think of no better music (along with Neil Cowley and The
Bad Plus) with which to undertake that sometimes long and arduous
challenge -- weaning oneself off rap and hip-hop -- than the Shai
Maestro Trio. The sometime aleatoric feel to their compositions
is belied by a very deliberate emphasis on development and directionality.
Their extended melodies are unpacked, split open, spread apart
and then expertly put back together again such that the dazzling
surfaces reveal unsuspected range and depth of field whose achievement
is owed to a tight-rope tight trio of musicians who are also the
best of friends.
a Shai Maestro concert not so much feeling good but fulfilled,
which is the natural outcome of being in the presence of musicians
who insist on nothing less than their honest best for every performance,
who serve up a somewhat unconventional slice of the idiom and
plumb its depths for all its hidden treasures and possibilities.
still relatively unknown group, now based in NYC, is out of the
nest and into the skies and more and more listeners are looking
up and liking what they hear and see. For all of that and more,
check out their latest CD, The Road to Ithaca.