Berlin based, Israeli born pianist Doron Segal was seven years old when he first started taking piano lessons, but it wasn’t until the age of sixteen that he became fascinated by the atmosphere and possibilities of playing jazz. He majored in jazz piano at The Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem, before moving to Berlin in 2014 to form his own trio. “The Addition of Strangeness” is his debut album, and what a wonderful debut it is.
Pianist and composer Segal is joined by Daniel Dor on drums and Tom Berkmann on bass. Recorded at Lowswing Studios in Berlin, there is a freshness and vitality to this trio’s music that is so engaging it leaves me in wonderment. It reminds me of the first time I ever heard The Brad Mehldau Trio (The Art of The Trio Volume 3), or The Esbjörn Svensson Trio (From Gregarin’s Point of View), leading me to the inevitable conclusion that in the genre of the jazz trio, there is a new voice. A new, inspiring, original voice; Doron Segal.
There appears to be an organic spontaneity to Segal’s music. I get the impression that he’s not afraid to go with the flow of an idea or melody, and see where the trio takes it. His compositions are melodic and lyrical with stunningly beautiful passages of sound, and yet it’s not in a formulaic kind of way, not necessarily expected, obvious or pre determined as I listen to it, and that’s one of the things I love about it.
I asked Segal about his attitude towards making music and how his ideas for the album came about. To my way of thinking his response sums up perfectly how his music comes across; “There is a quote by Walter Pater that greatly embodies the musical approach I have adopted in recent years. ‘It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character in art.’ For me, the flaws and ‘mistakes’ in your music should not be hidden, on the contrary, it is these imperfections that make music special for me”.
Segal’s compositions benefit greatly from the pianist’s understanding of the essence of many different musical genres. As he says, “Since I was a kid I was always listening to a broad selection of music. I believe that there is something to learn from each genre”. And this rings true as I listen to this album. Influences such as Chick Corea and Michel Petrucciani sit comfortably alongside Rachmaninov or Soundgarden or Radiohead. Segal adds; “A lot of times I listened to a classic album and felt that I didn’t understand it enough, and came back to it years later and loved it! It happened to me with a few of my favourite musicians, like Brad Mehldau, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. I feel greatly enriched by moving to Berlin, through great hip-hop projects I’m involved with like J. Iamotto & Aver, through to musicians I have met at shows I’ve played in”.
It is perhaps this melting pot of influences that has helped Segal craft a highly original sound. And the incredible thing about it is that it works so seemingly effortlessly. It speaks volumes of the composer that this is the case. In one sense the recording has a maturity to it that belies the composer’s years, and yet it also most definitely benefits from a youthful innocence that gives it a rewarding, uncompromising edge.
The superlative “Wrong Channels” opens the album. The pianist shares some interesting thoughts behind the tune; “Wrong Channels is about my attempt to find my right ‘output’ channel. I’m influenced by a lot of music, and sometimes I feel like it confuses me in terms of what I want to say in the piece I compose. I liked the idea of this piece but it was too short for me as a jazz composition, so I tried to continue it for months… but I didn’t like what I wrote. In the end I chose to keep it as it is, and it’s one of my favourite tunes on the album, but it all started with me trying to force this song into something it is not”.
It’s an intriguing thought as to how music influences us directly and indirectly, and the feeling I get from listening to the album as a whole, is that any struggles the composer may have had have taken him on a journey to just “letting go” maybe, in a way that allows his own intuition to come to the fore and let his music develop in a natural way. And this is certainly helped by having Daniel Dor and Tom Berkmann alongside him. The drummer and bassist are certainly not passengers on this recording, their sound, style and input being very important to the collective. Perhaps the prime example of this can be heard on “A Sketch of You”. Dor’s subtle and intuitive drumming is perfect for the tune, whilst Berkmann’s bowed bass is a key feature as the tune itself builds with an emotional drive that is quite simply exquisite and exhilarating.
“Tree Line” is another example of how well this trio work together. As the tune progresses, it wanders into a soundscape of its own making, dreamlike and spontaneous, as if the middle section of the tune organically grew into something unexpected. It is mesmerising.
The music throughout the album is at times breath-taking. Whether it be the introspective beauty of “Agadat Deshe”, the engrossing interpretation of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, or the gorgeous free-flowing lyricism of “Happic”, there isn’t a dull moment to be heard and the musician’s inventiveness sparkles with life and vibrancy.
As a reviewer of music, it is sometimes easy to get caught up in the technicalities of how something came to be created, where it’s from, whether it’s as good as it could have been, how good the musicians are, etc, etc, etc, whilst forgetting to ask the obvious; how does it make me feel? So when an album like this comes along and I ask myself that question, my answer in this case is simple; amazing. When music such as this takes the listener through the whole range of possible emotions, the answer can’t be anything else.