Pianist Assaf Gleizner, bass guitarist Koby Hayon and drummer Nadav Snir Zelniker form Trio Shalva. Shalva is a Hebrew word that means serenity. On Riding Alone, the ensemble’s independently-released recording, Trio Shalva explores standards and original music from Israel, their homeland. Trio Shalva’s sound, for the most part, is New Age. Think Scott Cossu or Fred Simon without the saxophonist out front.
As the lead voice in an ensemble whose songs resemble vignettes that could serve as soundtracks for road trips, notice the disc’s cover, Gleizner’s solos stay close to the melody without becoming knuckle-busting technique displays. While he does not display the ozone-level chops that many be-bop pianists have, Gleizner does brush up against “A Night In Tunisia” during his solo on “Shir Ahava Bedoui,” an Israeli standard that opens this recording.
Another nod to a jazz standard, “Without a Song” is made by Hayon on “Kvar Avru HaShanim.” Here, Trio Shalva strives for and reaches dramatic heights as Gleizner assumes a contemplative role while Hayon takes the lead. When Gleizner returns to the lead, this song/story-for-the-mind intensifies via a vigorous conflict of wills/eventual decision where his solo is elevated by Zelniker, whose maneuvers on the cymbals are at their most assertive. This performance reaches a total resolution when Gleizner’s solo ends and the ensemble transitions into a triumphant release. Zelniker then lowers the heat by switching to a relaxed backbeat.
Trio Shalva’s reflective mood, while led by Gleizner, is solidified throughout by Zelniker. This is quite clear on “1-3-4-8,” a straight-ahead original written by Hayon. On this track, Zelniker fills the openings left by Gleizner with tasty brush work, cymbal touches, and even a brief press roll. On “Vertigo,” another Hayon original, Gleizner and Zelniker provide comping/cymbal support for Hayon’s solo. They play alongside the bass solo before seamlessly merging as one and returning the lead back to the pianist. This intersection in sound shows how Trio Shalva values talking with, never over, each other.
Trio Shalva also displays an affinity for Middle Eastern sound with “Sova,” a song written by clarinetist Eyal Seda. Here, Zelniker is heard at the start providing accompaniment on frame drum. The trio’s performance is notably more assertive, as Gleizner plays more toward the piano’s middle range, as opposed to the higher ranges like on most songs here. On “Misirlou,” the trio embraces tango and Latin music. Trio Shalva’s performance on this track, which at the start just begs for a belly dancer, begins as a waltz with Gleizner’s “Bolero”-type playing before everyone builds in momentum where his Latin jazz-flavored solo is propelled by Zelniker’s shifting, speedier accompaniment. As the solo continues building, the trio shows how they can also flat-out swing when needed.
For the closer, “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” everyone abandons their main axes. Gleizner plays melodica, Hayon plays nylon string guitar and Zelniker plays frame drum. This “experimenting with alternative instruments,” as the group calls it in the liner notes, succeeds as a meditative exploration with a totally different feel from everything else on this recording. With this track, a story played by the trio and imagined by the listener unfolds the way they would individually envision it.