© Alex Lacombe
« The Road to Ithaca, the title of my new album, refers to a poem (reproduced in the libretto) by Constantin Cavafy, a Greek author, who was inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey. After the Trojan War, Ulysses came back to Ithaca and saved his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus from the suitors, by being the only one able to draw the bow he had left in his country a decade before. During his journey, he saw Ithaca many times from the deck of his ship, but every time, as he got closer to it, Ithaca disappeared. Cavafy retrospectively advised Ulysses to wish for his journey to be long, and not to rush to get back to Ithaca – his “goal”.
« My father handed me this poem before I left for my very first tour. It was his way to tell me that life is a long journey, and that rather than setting oneself a destination, an ambition, the most important is the richness of the journey. This notion became a part of who I am. »
Shai Maestro, who is now in his mid-twenties, has already come a long way, and his second album as a band leader (after the eponymous Shai Maestro Trio in 2012 ) is already the album of a well-attended/followed musician. It marks a big success in the field of the modern jazz trio as defined by E.S.T. or Brad Mehldau.
Like his forerunners, Shai Maestro composes his own themes and prefers the unknown to repetition of known grounds. On this new recording, his music bridges the gap between the immediacy of pop, the freedom of jazz and a neat lyric exposure inherited from his learning of classical music since he was five years old. Therefore, a new generation of listeners can relate to his both accessible and complex writing. « Simplicity is probably the most difficult thing to attain. What I enjoy the most is finding a clear phrase, a simple melodic line. This is the most immediate thing I relate to – a simple melody. I feel that is what communicates the most. Sometimes it’s hard for me to enjoy music that is very complexed (which is not a bad thing of course) but lacks a melodic line. At one point, you can’t go on without a melody, it is a respiration. »
Since 2010, Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz and Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder, have shared with Maestro a complicity that is more than just aesthetic. « One can make good music with people who are not necessarily friends, but when band mates share a certain philosophy of life and a true friendship, it helps. And this is the strength and obviousness of this trio. »
Shai Maestro Trio’s music is lulled by a form of permanent movement. « I like to create a theme, place it, work on it and then break it to better rebuild it afterwards. » In The Road to Ithaca, the piano, the bass and the drums answer each other in a continuous interplay, a real backwash that generates new phases. This swell follows the waves, a little stronger each time, in crescendoes of a gripping intensity; Not an easy task in the context of the studio. « In the studio, there are the headphones, glass walls between the musicians for sound isolation and many other “obstacles” that make the recording experience un-natural. We have to go beyond that and find the energy that prompts us on stage. It’s not easy, but we made it one of our highest priorities on this album – to capture the live, risk taking experience that normally occurs on stage. I feel it is essential »
Modernity and a new kind of writing that is both open and collective: these qualities, that explain the ascent of the trio, were discovered by the public in 2006 when Shai Maestro joined Avishai Cohen’s group. « I was young, not yet twenty, and Avishai was my own « Berklee College » … We went on tour, for five intense years and I learnt a lot. With time, I became more and more aware of the way I can incorporate sounds from my childhood into the music I was creating»
Maestro, born and raised in Israel explains: “Israel is a very young country, a country of immigrants, a pluralist one. There isn’t a specific style to embody our musical identity, like salsa for the Cubans, for instance. Our musical culture, particularly all the songs we grew up with, comes from many different places: Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, even south America… In addition, each person is significantly different then any other person in the world, a unique universe. Jazz is a medium that enables us to shape our own language, a free and universal one, from our own experience and our own sources. To create a sound that is personal – that reflects the individuality of the musician”
A composite identity then; He himself is of Bosnian, Romanian, Polish, and Bulgarian* descent – but is also shaped by his moving to New York City in December 2009 « NY is the ideal place to “get your ass kicked ” as they say (laughs). Even when we play in big festivals on tour, each time I come back to NYC, I find myself going back to play five sets of jazz standards at night in a restaurant : it is essential if you want to improve. »
Shai Maestro’s path, like Ulysses’s, is a briskly-made long-distance voyage, marked by the desire to take risks. « I recently read an interview of Keith Jarrett that made a big impression on me. He mentioned this notion of risk. While playing, there are countless crossroads, junctions, in every moment, every second. One of the most common crossroads is the choice between taking the safe road – to turn to your ‘comfort zone’- or taking a risk and going for the unknown; as an improviser, you need to take these decisions very quickly.
Jarrett said : « The day that I will even have a doubt if to go on the safe road or to take a risk and dive into the unknown is they day I will stop playing music.. » Shai Maestro’s The Road to Ithaca has obviously plenty of surprises in store for us.
* As a kind of wink at his roots, Shai Maestro invites Neli Andreeva, a member of the bulgarian “Philip Kutev choir” on the final track, « I’ve discovered her on Youtube, and hearing her sing resonated somewhere very deep inside my soul. The world is small today, and I decided to find a way to collaborate with her… It is definitely a dream that came true.» Maybe an introduction to a whole new universe of an upcoming project?…