“Hearing the Shai Maestro Trio is like awakening to a new world – a world of wonders, excitement, beauty and uncertainty,” All About Jazz has suggested. The Dream Thief, the first ECM release by Maestro as a leader, presents the Israeli pianist fronting the latest incarnation of his uncommonly interactive, atmospherically expansive trio, featuring new drummer Ofri Nehemya, a fellow Israeli, and its bassist from the start, Jorge Roeder, a native of Peru. The album also includes several searching solo performances by Maestro. His solo interpretation of Israeli singer-songwriter Matti Caspi’s “My Second Childhood” raises the curtain on a program of characteristically vivid Maestro originals.
Maestro, who made his first ECM appearance on vocalist Theo Bleckmann’s 2017 album Elegy, made a name for himself playing in Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen’s popular band from 2006 to 2011. A resident of Brooklyn and a dual Israeli and American citizen, the pianist also played in star drummer Mark Guiliana’s quartet and has recently worked in a duo with saxophonist Chris Potter. After four trio albums with Roeder and drummer Ziv Ravitz, Maestro drafted Nehemya into the group, which gathered to record The Dream Thief at the studio in Lugano. Maestro chose the darker-toned of two Steinway model D pianos on offer, apt for what he calls “the dreamy, cinematic quality” of the music he had written for the session. With Manfred Eicher producing, the atmosphere in the studio was one of being “open to the magic of the moment,” Maestro recalls. “I had a clear intention for the pieces, but I knew that Manfred likes to let the music breathe, to get to the essence of the music. For instance, my composition ‘Lifeline’ had been a double-time burner live, but Manfred suggested that we take it down about 50 bpm and concentrate on making the melody sing, in the way Charlie Haden might do. That really transformed the tune.”
Another spontaneous creation was Maestro’s solo performance of Caspi’s “My Second Childhood,” a song about experiencing life anew via the eyes of a child. The Israeli composer is one of the pianist’s “all-time favorites – I grew up listening to him, and even took lessons with Caspi when I was 12,” he says. “I had arrived at the studio early before Jorge and Ofri, just to commune with the piano. I hadn’t planned to include that tune, but it just came out, as it’s so deep in my system. I have a real appreciation for the DNA of a great song, where the melody and the harmony go perfectly together. It’s the same thing with ‘These Foolish Things,” which is also such a beautifully crafted song. I was just improvising, and it morphed into a kind of avant-garde treatment – yet with the melody still like a red thread wound through it.”