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The Checkout: Israeli Pianist Shai Maestro on Being More Human, Before His ECM Release

Courtesy of the artist

We’ve always admired Shai Maestro’s fearless approach to music. When he sits down at the piano, especially in an improvisational solo setting, he checks the temperature of a space and lets the music come to him, allowing one idea to flow into another. But he wasn’t always that free.

On this episode of The Checkout, Maestro remembers a difficult moment on tour with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Mark Guiliana — a moment that would shape his career. In the middle of a performance, while playing his tune, the trio took an unexpected detour and he completely freaked out. That meltdown would change his thinking, and approach to music, forever. To hear Maestro tell it, what he became after this experience was more human — which is also the title of his new album, which ECM will release on Jan. 29. 

Back in Nov. of 2019, when we could hang in his Brooklyn apartment, Maestro shared music from this recording, which is finally ready for public consumption. We’ll also hear music from Maestro’s previous ECM album, The Dream Thief.

And at the end of the show, we’ll put Maestro’s fearless acumen to the test, based on an improvisational comedy “Yes, and…” exercise.  I throw him a random idea and challenge him to musically score it on the piano. For instance: I ask him to play the forest where he grew up near Tel Aviv. He passes the test with flying colors, even evoking imagery of a jet aircraft taking off. 

Shai Maestro’s Human will be released on Jan. 29 on ECM; preorder here.

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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.