REVIEW: Shai Maestro Trio at Jazzahead!

Shai Maestro

American pianist Andrew Oliver, now based in London, was particularly won over by the Shai Maestro Trio at Jazzahead! in Bremen last month. He writes:

I have been hearing about the legendary excesses of Jazzahead in Bremen for years, and had a chance to go and participate in them this year for the first time, having recently moved to London from Portland, OR. There were also a huge number of showcase performances - one day focused on German jazz (SEE OUR REPORT), one on Danish jazz (SEE OUR REPORT), one on European jazz, and one on Overseas jazz.

 Amidst the general chaos, the standout peformance for me was an 11pm set by the Shai Maestro Trio featuring Jorge Roeder on bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums. I was familiar with Maestro from his work as pianist in Avishai Cohen's trio on their excellent 2008 album Gently Disturbed, which introduced the then 21-year old Israeli pianist to the larger jazz world.  This was my first hearing of his trio, and I was very impressed by the overall sound and concept. While their music bore the influence of Cohen's intense bassline-heavy polyrhythmic compositions, its standout qualities were essentially different:  Maestro's group impressed with a subtle maturity, a careful use of drama and an incredible combination of humility and technical bravado.

 Simple diatonic melodies, some adorned with unorthodox and compelling ornamentation were stated with great lyricism by Maestro, whose style and technique emphasize a singing quality in the piano.  Rarely prone to excess, his most dramatic pianistic moments often involved unison lower register riffs with Roeder or the occasional old-fashioned rock n roll piano, often leading to the climax of well thought-out compositions that almost never suffer from the modern jazz syndrome of excessive vamps.  Many of the tunes had a dark harmonic edge, not from particularly complex voicings or extended harmonies, but rather from a deceptively simple and tasteful triadic chord progressions that provided a highly emotionally satisfying experience of tension and release.  The performance as a whole was actually surprisingly diatonic, with only an occasional foray into real chromaticism, but to Maestro's credit as a composer, the tunes never lapsed into corniness or anywhere near "smooth" territory, a difficult balance with such a relatively straightforward harmonic pallete.

 Maestro was also perfectly matched with drummer Ravitz, who gave a thrilling performance himself on many levels.  Clearly highly invested in the music, Ravitz used his formidable technique for good, with compelling fills which ratcheted up the intensity and kept things unpredictable while at the same time remaining anchored to an incredible time feel and relaxed grooviness which kept him totally in control even at the most intense moments.  Special mention is due to his well-tuned drums and beautiful cymbal tone which was clear, distinct, and ringing without obscuring the piano's high end sound.  All three members of the trio exhibited just the right amount of bravado, a relaxed self-assuredness that kept the audience's focus squarely on the tension and release in the music rather than any external nervousness about whether they could actually pull off what they were going for.

 There were quite a few piano trios featured at Jazzahead! and indeed the configuration is so ubiquitous in jazz that it's very satisfying to hear a new trio emerging which shows another path forward for this endlessly flexible yet seemingly timeless instrumentation.  It's also very satisfying to hear a young pianist with such a command of his instrument combined with a very mature tastefulness which allows his best qualities to come across with abundant clarity.  Shai Maestro's trio achieved an impressive showing of taste, melody, groove, and highly effective emotional content in their very short 40-minute set at Jazzahead! These qualities are also in full effect on their newest release The Road to Ithaca, which I highly recommend.  Keep an eye out for the continued development of this great addition to the time honored jazz piano trio tradition.

Andrew Oliver will be with his trio Rubik (WEBSITE) at Jazzlive at the Crypt in Camberwell on July 11th.

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