Let me start by saying that I think that Shai Maestro is one of the most talented Jazz pianists out there. I’ve been a fan since I saw him live for the first time some years ago for his debut album, which I’ve reviewed here with 5 stars, and I’ve also listed him in Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums.
With this introduction, it is very clear that there will be a “But” coming. And yes, unfortunately there is.
Artists Want To Evolve
I understand that artists want to evolve, explore new territories, be creative. This is why they are great artists. Think of Miles Davis dismissing his early stuff as old in the later years, he famously said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”.
The same goes for painters, or any other creative force. If you look at the different periods of Picasso, you’d hardly guess it was always the same artist. Similarly, I was very much surprised how unexciting Van Gogh’s early work was, and how much of his most admired paintings are from the last few years of this live. If these artists hadn’t evolved, humanity would have missed a lot.
However, what about the people who like a certain style of the artist? Sometimes this can be probably extremely frustrating for the artist, for example can you imagine an Eagles concert without Hotel California? Other artists just move on and probably lose some of their initial audience when they evolve to a new style.
The Stone Skipper (Sound Surveyor Music 2016)
After this long introduction, you’ve probably guessed that I’m not too happy with the evolution that Shai Maestro, together with his core trio of Jorge Roeder et Ziv Ravitz, has taken on this album.
This review has been in the making for several weeks now, as it pains me to write something negative about a great artist.
You still get the occasional Jazz trio, but quite a lot of the songs are going beyond Jazz. You’ll find a lot of elements inspired by Lo-Fi music, some more ethnic singing, some choral parts, the occasional synthesizer, etc. etc. etc.
Honestly, I’m probably (or actually most assuredly) a bit conservative, but most of this is not my cup of tea.
And this is in spite of the great musicians that Shai has been working here, including the fantastic singers Theo Bleckmann and Gretchen Parlato.
Let me give you some examples. The opening track A Man, Morning, Street, Rain has some typical lo-fi elements, sounding a bit like played from an old Gramophone, including even the cracks of the record. I don’t really sense a direction here.
You’ll find some choral elements in Without Words”, but again, I’m lacking structure, melody here. Or take Kunda kuchka, where you get the ethnic elements. I’m sorry, but I personally find myself skipping through those tracks very quickly.
So unfortunately, I probably really don’t get this album. Note that I’ve read several reviews in France that love this album (Jazz News has called it “Indispensable“), so really take my very personal opinion here with a huge grain of salt. Again, artists need to evolve, whether we like it or not.
My rating: 3 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz), apparently it is not yet formally released in the US (the artist says “coming soon” on his facebook page).
Update March 18: I’ve now seen Shai Maestro live playing the songs from this album, and here the music gets it’s true meaning! It really was an amazing concert.