Shai Maestro: The Stone Skipper – Not Really A Review

Shai Maestro

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.

Shai Maestro Trio The Stone Skipper 24 96

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.

My Top10 Jazz Covers Of Pop Songs

Pop/Rock music in Jazz

The usage of pop music in Jazz is actually nothing new, to be fair, many of what are considered today’s Jazz standards were initially “pop” songs of their times.

In my list below, I’ve taken some kind of liberty with the definition of “Pop/Rock” song (in a nutshell it is just another list of music I love).

The entire list started with me listening to Christian McBride’s recent live album I just reviewed and particularly his “Car Wash” song, his version of this 1970s disco classic.

Don’t pay any attention to the numbering, this is just completely random, no ranking implied.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed many others, please add your favorites in the comments!

1. Christian McBride – Car Wash

As mentioned before, from the great Album Live At The Village Vanguard 

The Christian McBride Trio Live At The Village Vanguard 2015 MackAvenue

2.  Brad Mehldau – Exit Music For a Film

I’ve already listed Brad Mehldau in my 25 Essential Jazz Albums, and he actually has two pop covers on there, I could have chosen both Nick Drake’s Riverman and this cover from Radiohead.

Brad Mehldau Art of the Trio vol 3 Songs Warner Jazz 1998

3. Sophie Hunger – I Put A Spell On You

I’ve already reviewed this great Nina Simone tribute album, and this version of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic is my favorite song on there. Love it!

Autour de Nina Verve Compilation Sophie Hunger Melody Gardot

4.  The Bad Plus – Smells Like Teen Spirit

I haven’t mentioned this American trio on my blog yet, interestingly enough. They do a lot of cover versions which are usually a lot of fun, like this Nirvana classic from their 2003 album These Are The Vistas.

The Bad Plus These Are The Vistas 2003

5.  Gretchen Parlato – Holding Back the Years

The American singer Gretchen Parlato has really found her very own style, you’ll recognize her immediately. She deserves even more attention than she currently gets!

And as much as I hate Simply Red in general, I really like this cover a lot.

Gretchen Parlato The Lost And Found

6. Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Diamonds and Pearls

Marcin Wasilewski is a great Polish pianist, his trio recordings on ECM are very beautiful, and he’s played quite a bit on other great recordings as well. Here he’s covering Prince.

Marcin Wasilewski January

 

7. Holly Cole – Tennessee Waltz

Is Holly Cole actually a Jazz singer? Well, probably borderline. Who cares, this album is amazingly beautiful. One of my favorite songs on here is the 1940s classic Tennessee Waltz.

Holly Cole Don't Smoke In Bed

8. Musica Nuda – Roxane 

Musica Nuda, the Italian duo of Petra Magoni (vocals) and Ferruccio Spinet (double bass) is not very well-known outside of Italy, which is a pity, as it is really astounding to hear what you can do with this rather improbable “nude” combination of voice and bass, without any piano or drums. The do cover quite a lot of pop songs, The Police’s Roxane is just one beautiful example.

Musica Nuda Live At Fip

9. Youn Sun Nah – Enter Sandman

Youn Sun Nah also has a great track on Autour de Nina (mentioned above), but her own albums are equally impressive, e.g. this album Same Girl on ACT, which gives us this beautiful Metallica cover.

Youn Sun Nah Same Girl

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10. Sarah McKenzie – Moon River

I’ve recently praised Sarah McKenzie’s new release We Could Be Lovers, and still have it in constant rotation. Moon River is just out of this world!

Sarah McKenzie We Could Be Lovers Impulse 2015

So, what do you think? I’m considering a second edition of this blog post. Any recommendations would be appreciated!