Nitai Hershkovits Talks His Musical Heritage and Collaborators
Text & Interview:
Your latest work “New Place Always” is a collection of simple piano solo pieces, as opposed to the previous work” I Asked You The Questions”, which used synthesizer and beat a lot. However, the sound is quite different from typical jazz pianist solo works.
I think this is because your diversified musical root of Moroccan mother and Polish father is reflected. Could you tell me why and how you created this album with Rejoicer?
As soon as I got to the studio I understood that I look for a musical image rather than a ‘pianistic’ album. I brought some ideas that I was writing on my piano but it sounded so different in the studio and on a different piano, that I left it behind and eventually wrote most of the album during the time in the studio. I wanted to go back to the very root sound of acoustic piano after using keyboards and electronics. This is a more intimate format where I feel I can connect even more personally to the listener. Since Rejoicer and I work very well bouncing ideas together, it made total sense to get back in the studio and create more music.
The last work” I Asked You The Questions” was also exciting and hip sound which overturned your image of a gracious pianist who played in a band of Avishai Cohen.
I was surprised at the sound which was kind of mixed with the early Weather Report and the latest Beat music. Could you tell me what you tried to express at the last work on this occasion?
We actually got to a point where we can’t really tell what our influences are. It sounded so new and diverse so we just let it be. After having one session together, Rejoicer was the one who asked me if I wanted to make a record and of course I said ‘let’s do it’. As opposed to any other recording date I had, I didn’t know what we’re going to play. We just gathered in the studio, laying chords, bass lines, cropping and sampling old records and basically just hanging in the studio with a bunch of friends. I wanted to give exactly that idea — that’s how our hang sounds like.
Let me get back to the topic of your latest work. Well, there are various types of Jazz pianist’s solo pieces. Among them, are there any piece that you have felt inspired or sympathy to make ”New Place Always”?
For example, I felt your latest work is kind of close to Piano solo piece of Armenian, Polish Slawek Jaskulke and Ethiopian Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. Or maybe, you can pick up some old jazz or classical works.
I had all kinds of references in my head while working on this album. I obviously can’t be someone else so the idea was to put different sides of myself out. Emahoy was definitely in the room as well as Mingus Plays Piano. The rawness of a non-pianist or someone who spilled his ideas without a filter was very appealing to me. On the other hand there are Horowitz and Richter who convey strong feelings, in their own way, with such elegance so I wanted to show that side as well.
The album has various types of compositions such as “Red Wagon Go”and “Explaining Sage” in which you use pentatonic scale, “Anette & Issac” which has classical melody without improvisation and “South To Cairo” which is more like Arabic music. Do you have a musical vision that you wanted to express in the whole album?
I wanted to use simple concepts to make an image. Pentatonic scale is one of the ways but there are so many layers that I’m not even sure I want to put into words since it’s not a technical thing but more of a feeling. The musical vision was to introduce my heritage and influences in a way that still leaves the listener a space for interpretation.
You chose the covers of Paul McCartney’s ”Jenny Wren” and Pat Thomas’s ”Oye Asem”. That quite surprised me. I mean it is quite rare to pick up these pieces in not only piano solo album but also any others. Could you tell me the intention?
It felt like those tunes found their way into this album. Pat Thomas and Ebo Taylor (who produces for him and writes all those beautiful melodic lines) are definitely part of my musical vocabulary by now so that was a good enough reason to have my take on it. Same goes for Paul McCartney — Many people have covered the Beatles and the band members’ songs but I never had the “Beatles Fever” or whatever you call it. My dad once brought home Paul McCartney’s ‘Band On The Run’ and I had a short period listening to that album and kept listening to some of his projects since.
I like to see what happens when I, who have my own influences and musical language, take that song and give my interpretation to it — Obviously it will never sound like anyone else simply because nobody has the exact combination of musical heritage like I do.
This is off topic, but I thought the picture of the back of the CD jacket “I Asked You The Questions” was impressive…. You were holding a record of the masterpiece “Soro” of Salif Keita. The cover of Pat Thomas this time was also persuasive. Do you like or often listen to African music?
Yes, my friends in Israel have opened me to this world a few years ago. While I was focusing on other kinds of music they dug deep into African music. Now I find myself in this world and that feels fresh and fun. From a perspective of Jazz, it makes a lot of sense to me, that these worlds will co-exist since they have a lot in common, both melodically and rhythmically.
According to the liner notes in this album, your grandfather visited Morocco’s Royal Palace of Rabat and Atlas Mountains, and you learned Israel folk tales from Eastern Europe while listening Polish music played with harmonica by your grandmother. I got really interested in it. Could you tell me to which part such episodes are reflected in this album?
I really hope that one can find his own ways to connect the story to the music. Like in any form of art, I would like to leave some sort of space for feelings and interpretation to who ever participates.
I heard that this album was recorded alongside a lake of Poland which is one of your racial origin. Does it effect to this album?
It was a beautiful three stories old house that we also slept in. It must have an effect to it. Staying and recording in the same place for three days is a strong and inspiring experience.
It seems you moved to NY from Israel for work in 2016. Tell me what changed by moving into NY including what reflects to this album?
Living and working in NY is like nothing else for me. It’s both intense and very inspiring all at the same time. The best artists, in any form of art, present their work on a daily basis and it’s encouraging to be surrounded by this thing. A lot has changed since I moved. I get to collaborate on the road and in the studio with some of my heroes and learning a lot about myself as a musician and a person. Also, being around so many great young pianists who I can learn from is a true blessing.
In the first-ever performance in Japan which will be held in July, you will play with Or Bareket and Amir Bresler as a trio. I think the pieces of “New Place Always” and “I Asked You the Questions” performed by the piano trio will be quite differently from the albums. What kind of performance can we expect?
It’s going to be my third visit to Japan and I can’t wait to see old and new fans. I had only good memories going there. We will play mostly the material from the new album as well as songs by Amir and Or. We all are long-time friends and know each other very well; therefore, I would like to also leave the space for the moment and try not to decide everything before but discover while we go.