Call on the Old Wise is Nitai Hershkovits’ first record for ECM, presenting his powerful pianistic ingenuity in a largely improvised solo setting. Nitai’s improvisations unfold like compositions being created in real-time: “It’s like I’m playing with several periods of music at once, but in a sort of augmented-reality-environment,” states Nitai. “To me the album is like a journey taking you through multiple varying experiences in the blink of an eye. Like jumping through frames holding different pictures or looking through windows to different worlds.” Call on the Old Wise follows Isabela and Here Be Dragons, where Nitai has been heard as a member of Oded Tzur’s quartet.
The album is partially dedicated to Nitai’s former piano teacher Suzan Cohen, with whom he studied in Jerusalem and who according to Nitai is the mentor to whom the term ‘wise’ in the record’s title alludes. The pieces “The Old Wise”, “Of Mentorship” and “For Suzan” refer directly to her. But Nitai draws from wide-reaching influences, ranging from his work in jazz contexts and cutting-edge contemporary explorations to his background in classical music. This immaculate balance of idioms gives rise to an abundance of colours and timbres, explored by a pianist, who has successfully forged his very own voice as improviser and shape-designer.
In his approach to improvisation, he notes, shapes and textures set the direction for the development of material: “I don’t want to be confined to any specific key or time signature, but rather leave the freedom to continually re-evaluate things in real-time and see them from a new perspective over and over again. That’s also why I tried to go into the session with as few preconceived ideas as possible.” In light of this spontaneous sense of creation, it is striking how completely formed many of the miniaturesque designs on the album unfurl. Nitai mentions inspirations as seemingly disparate as Chick Corea and Russian composers Rachmaninoff and Scriabin guiding him in the process.
Recorded at the Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano in 2022, the specific acoustic properties of the studio too play into the fabric of Nitai’s musical developments, as did his exchanges with producer Manfred Eicher. Nitai: “In the studio very few words are spoken. With Manfred, it’s like there’s another musician in the room, reflecting, reacting and reshaping the music in the moment.” Call on the Old Wise is a testimony to Nitai Hershkovits’s unique inventiveness as well as an essential addition to ECM’s celebrated line of solo piano recordings.
Born to a Moroccan mother and a Polish father, Nitai originally started out his musical path on clarinet before switching to the piano at age 15. Jazz and improvised music were the focal point of his musical investigations throughout his teens, with a particularly strong interest for the idiosyncrasies of Sonny Rollins. In this period, Nitai won several jazz competitions in the Tel Aviv area, before his deepened interest in classical music took shape, leading to studies in both jazz – with Omer vital and bassist Avishai Cohen i.a. – and classical piano, with Menahem Weisenberg and Amir Pedorovits. After a five year-spell in Avishai Cohen’s trio (2011-2016), Nitai moved to New York, where he played in numerous groups, among them Oded Tzur’s quartet, of which he continues to be part today. He has recently moved back to Israel, where he is involved with a variety of musical projects, including collaborations with electronic musician Yuvi Havkin aka Rejoicer and drummer Amir Bresler, who can be heard on their joint venture Apifera.