Six years after the release of his debut album, Directions, Israeli-born pianist/composer Daniel Meron is back with a new project, Sky Begins. While Directions had him fronting a quintet in an instrumental set, Sky Begins has him working with a trio and a vocalist on a set of eight original pieces—six songs with vocals by Maia Karo, who just happens to be Meron’s wife, and two short solo piano studies.
Meron’s website describes the new project’s aesthetic: “While clearly in the realm of jazz, the music on the album is dynamic and lyrical, traveling through rich harmonies to magical places in time and imagination. The band grooves hard on funky and folkloric rhythms, while shifting between energetic improvisation and intimate interaction.”
Up-tempo numbers like the exuberant “Fish in the Air” and the swinging “You Give Me Love” provide a nice contrast to the more subtle melodies of ballads like “Notes from a Journey” and the impressionistic poetry of “Like Water.” Moreover, up-tempo or ballad, Karo handles the vocals with real feeling for the lyrics. She never overpowers a song with cheap sentimentality; she works to make the songs’ emotional messages speak for themselves. Unlike the vocal gyrations practiced by some jazz vocalists, she sings in service of the work.
Meron is a melodist with talent. His work deserves the respect Karo gives it. Even when she does a bit of vocalese, as in the album opener “Sleepless Nights,” she does so with artistic subtlety. “Sleepless Nights,” by the way, is a re-imagination of a tune that appeared on Directions. Meron and Karo work together; it is a union that works. And with bassist Noam Wiesenberg and drummer Jimmy Macbride, they make a tight ensemble.
Although the bulk of the album is in the songs, the solo piano pieces—“Secret Room” and “Water Ends” which closes the album—have the kind of memorable lyric intensity and almost classical elegance that makes an indelible impression and leaves the listener—at least this listener—wanting more.