Guitarist Gene Segal's debut recording Hypnotic is an appealing melange of contemporary jazz-funk á la John Scofield and Medeski Martin & Wood, no-nonsense straight-ahead jazz, with a dash of out-jazz skronk thrown in for good measure. Hypnotic is more or less divided right down the middle between the jazz-funk and straight-ahead jazz styles, with the former dominating the first half of the CD and the latter taking up much of the second half. For my money, Segal's take on jazz-funk is thoroughly fresh, lively and imaginative, while the more straight-ahead stuff, while beautifully executed, is a tiny bit less inspired.
Segal's fluid guitar style borrows a little from Scofield, Mike Stern and David Fiuzcynski, but he's no imitator and is well on his way to forging an unique personal sound. His backing band is excellent, featuring the excellent Sam Barsh on keyboards and the pliable, adaptable drumming and percussion of Matt Kane. A horn section pops up on a few tracks and the electronically altered sound of Mike Sim's tenor is as surprising as it is effective.
The odd-metered funk of "Red Eyes," the CD's first track, offers Segal and Barsh an opportunity to trade fours before the lyrical theme kicks in. The tune's Eastern European sounding harmonies and 5/4 rhythm hearken back to the folk music of Segal's Russian heritage. The title track is a snaking, hip-shaking slow drag through New Orleans led by Bryan Benninghove's soprano sax. The CD's highlight, however, is the Fela Kuti-inspired "Alef." Unlike a lot of modern-day Afro-Beat music I've been hearing lately, this tune doesn't sound forced or derivative at all. It's an interesting, meaty composition and Segal and his band simply play the heck out of it! About mid-way through, they throw the listener a curve-ball, as the piece abruptly shifts gears and goes in a completely unexpected direction. My only complaint about the turbulent "Captain Chaos" is that it is too short! Easily the CD's most adventurous track, this quivering slab of freebopping fusion ends just as it seems ready to take off for parts unknown.
The balance of the CD is weighted heavily towards ballads and blues. A lovely, rippling, unaccompanied guitar solo opens "Free Fall," which develops into a sweet ballad with a particularly mellow and warm organ solo from Barsh. "Quiet" is very similar, though without the solo guitar intro and with a gospel-infused climax, featuring another great solo by Barsh. More rewarding, but still in a relatively mellow modern jazz vein, is "Four Flights Up," a dark, intimate piece that reminded me of those great Jan Hammer-John Abercrombie collaborations on ECM. "Blues Again" is an uptempo nod to the sort of sound you'd hear on those great old Prestige and Blue Note organ trio dates from the late 50s and early 60s. Segal has clearly spent some time studying this style, though he steers clear of obvious references and does a nice job presenting his own take on it. "Truth" closes Hypnotic out on a sunny, funky note, one that reminds me of the salad days of John Scofield's mid-1980s quartet with Dennis Chambers and Gary Grainger.
Hypnotic is an excellent debut by a fine young jazz guitarist with a lot to say and a great backing band. I'm looking forward to more by Segal.