Alone Together

Israeli jazz pianist Daniel Meron lives – and plays – in the moment on his solo album

Daniel Meron on the piano (photo credit: YASSER SOUISRI)
Daniel Meron on the piano
(photo credit: YASSER SOUISRI)
Life’s a collection of improvised moments: serving as chief musical director in the Israeli army performance troupe, accepting a scholarship to the Rimon School of Music, transferring to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying under American saxophone legend Joe Lovano, moving to Park Slope, Brooklyn, recording an album with your wife, playing in a synth-pop band – an unthinkable style as far removed from acoustic-oriented jazz as instrumentally possible.
These are the improvised moments of Israeli pianist Daniel Meron. His most recent and perhaps most surprising of them all: abandoning original material, carefully crafted quintets and rehearsal space to produce a solo cover album.
“For my third album, I wanted to take a break from writing to do something by myself,” Meron explains.
His first album, Directions (2010), featured original compositions for jazz trio and quintet; his second, more energetic album, Sky Begins (2016), came to life through his engaging arrangements and his wife’s lyrical vocals. Despite shifting gears to cast aside original material, his third musical offering is purely Meron – with nods to Miles, Marley and Wheatus, of course.
“As a pianist, you get used to practicing alone. Due to the nature of the instrument, it’s really easy to provide musical support for yourself because you have all 88 notes, two hands, 10 fingers and two feet at your disposal.
You can create beautiful harmonies and control those harmonies and rhythms all by yourself.”
Control is an essential element for the Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based musician, especially when applied to improvisation. Meron believes that improvisation is the purest way to get to the place you want to be at any given moment.
While every song from his first two albums reveals greater insight into his unique playing style, the opening phrase of “Body And Soul” – the first track on the pianist’s solo endeavor This Was Now – rips Daniel Meron open like a haphazardly wrapped present.
What follows are 11 uncensored glimpses into Meron’s own body and soul.
Meron’s choice to start the album on the brighter, less minor-driven bridge of the beloved jazz standard becomes an invitation for the listener to take part in a specific moment – a shared human encounter between performer and audience.
While finding the connection between a handful of jazz standards, a spiritual Marley tune and a pop song from the ‘90s can prove difficult, there is one very personal theme embedded in the album’s name that weaves This Was Now together: living in the “now.”
Meron recounts, “It all started four or five years ago, when I lost the ability to focus on my playing. I was distracted and not really listening. I’d sit at the piano and my fingers would move, but it was all so automatic.
I wasn’t listening to the notes or trying to see how they made me feel or even reacting to what I was playing.”
The acoustic die-hard stiffens for a moment as he assigns part of the blame for his divided attention to the digital age. Fed up with “every little inclination to zone out or escape to an easier place like the Internet or social media,” Meron made a vow to regroup and focus on the present – to experience the current moments in his life and translate those moments into music.
But how? Through meditation.
“I started with short recordings and eight-minute meditation guides. I never thought of myself as someone who would be attracted to the spiritual realm.”
At least until his wife signed him up for a 10-day meditation retreat. The result, he says, was “incredible. I was amazed. I learned to be with myself.”
The beautiful thing about meditation, according to Meron, is its lack of agenda. The goal is to pay attention to what is happening in that moment, without digressing elsewhere.
“I try to bring that meditative mindset to the piano.”
Perhaps the plainest example of this mindset is the album’s dreamy “2:35 p.m.”: two minutes and thirty- five seconds of unplanned, uninterrupted improvisation – a meditation in and of itself.
Another naturally meditative track on This Was Now is “Redemption Song.” Meron takes it in a more poplike and positive direction, shedding new light on Bob Marley’s folk ballad.
It would seem Meron’s newly discovered relationship with spirituality extends to Judaism in the album as well, in his choice to include a traditional Israeli melody, titled “David.”
When asked if the decision to include a traditional Israeli melody was patriotic, Meron admits, “I would deny it, but the truth is it just may have been. I feel like it’s important wherever you are to not disregard or forget the places that have changed your life.”
It may have only taken Meron two short sessions to record This Was Now, but his self-discovery is ongoing.
“The music is there and it’s not going to change, but it’s still dynamic for me because I’m constantly learning from what I played and how I played. I thought I learned a lot in getting ready for the recording – which is true – but as I listened to the music, I realized that I was learning much more thinking about what I liked about the way that I played, what I wanted to change, where I wanted to go next with my ideas, what I wanted to develop, what I wanted to get rid of... so really it was a great school for me to listen to these things and see what I could take from them for my next project.”
After ripping off his solo Band Aid, Meron is eager to explore more solo covers moving forward.
“I now see the value in playing other people’s music. It clearly gives me a new angle on my own musical abilities. I think that this will help me figure out exactly what I want from my compositions and projects. I’m excited about seeing how this affects my future.”
Meron’s album is currently available internationally and will hit record stores in Israel this summer. He is planning a Jerusalem show this August.
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