A strong friendship can be a wonderful thing, a connection that allows you to pick up where you left off no matter how long the gap, one that remains strong whatever your respective experiences since you last met. Should you and your friends happen to be professional musicians then that gift can potentially go to a whole new higher level. Israeli trio Shalosh met in High School and their friendship endured even pianist Gadi Stern's six year exile in the USA. Stern recently commented on his reasons for returning to Jerusalem saying that over the years, as each of the trio grew as professional musicians, the musical spark and connection between them became progressively stronger until they agreed that they should form a band and put their individual projects aside.
The arresting second track "Jerusalem State of Mind" is a near show stopping example of all of this friendship, shared experience and joy at reconnection. The way, for example, that Daniel Benhorin's fabulous propulsive bass line weaves in and out of Stern's snaking piano solo to give the impression of a walk through busy crowds, past obstructions, through the daily life of the city is an absolute joy. Similarly the field recordings of the Ben Yehuda outdoor market and wider Jerusalem used on the piece add a whole new dimension— apparently played through the band's headphones on the released take unedited, exactly as we hear them. Happy, near incredible, accidents arose from this approach, like at the 4 and a half minute mark where shouts on the field recording coincide with gaps in Matan Assayag's climactic drum solo and also at the brief pause before the start of the final section to give a sort of Jerusalem "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" feel. The fit of these sounds with the music is so perfect that it's almost enough to make you reflect on fate and destiny, but whatever the explanation it's a wonderful track that shows a 'joi de vivre' and an urge to communicate with its audience that is typical of the collection as a whole.
Communication is a central to Shalosh's ethos—were the band to have a mission statement it would be something like 'to make music that moves its audience in the greatest way possible, removing barriers between performers and audience to create a community of the like- minded.' Stern commented recently that ..."in a lot of the jazz I hear everyone is just waiting for their turn to solo, and not really dealing with the human relationships that music creates and builds... [and that]... reflects the alienation our culture is undergoing." You can hear a musical expression of the latter view in the way that the opening riff of "Computer Crash" lurches between a simulation of the abrupt, staccato, stops of a churning hard drive into occasional melodic fragments that emerge like the sun from behind the clouds. On "Leaving Maine," originally written with lyrics for American singer Sarah Elizabeth Charles, you can hear a less ironic statement of the sort of emotional communication that Shalosh are aiming for. While its ballad setting makes it one of the more straight ahead jazz pieces on the collection, both Stern's piano and Benhorin's bass drip emotion, the band collectively building the tension released at the close by the melancholy solo piano voice.
Communication is also important within the trio, where the democratic structure with no leader gives each member the freedom to influence and push the pieces in different directions. So "Brain Damaged Pumpkin Pie" starts at a canter, slowing around the 4 and a half minute mark before Daniel Benhorin's inventive bass figure returns to lift the momentum. The album as a whole was recorded live with little or no editing, the best full take being chosen for release, and this piece in particular is evidence that Shalosh would be fantastic in a gig setting. Further evidence can be heard on "Everything Passes, Even the Trees" with its unexpected, euphoric, coda that pushes the piece away from the observational, cinematic, meditation on the damage caused by a snowstorm towards something that has the acceleration, slightly manic energy and passion of, say, a young Carole King in a piano jam with the Ben Folds 5. The interplay on pieces like "Pleasure and Disgrace" between first the bass and piano and later the drums and the piano is simply first rate.
If the main strengths of the collection are its directness of communication and the diversity of the musical experiences of the musicians, then the icing on the cake is the sonic inventiveness with which the arrangements are augmented. So in addition to the found sounds on "Jerusalem State of Mind" there is the extraordinary sound at the start of "Elephant" made by secreting forks, screws and paper inside the piano! There is also what initially appears to be the sound of a typewriter at the beginning of "Everything Passes, Even the Trees," which it transpires is actually clever ride cymbal work from Assayag!
All of this helps draw the listener into the collection and more importantly return for repeat listens. Shalosh have made a direct, open yet unpredictable piano trio record whose sonic invention suggests that it would be fantastic to hear live. European dates are promised, keep your friends close.