Rotem Sivan – â€œMy Favorite Monsterâ€
The thing that first attracted to me to the music and guitar playing of Rotem Sivan was that he is not afraid to go his own way, and that includes what he does as a guitarist, composer, and an overall music visionary. So I really shouldnâ€™t have been surprised that â€œIndian Oceanâ€, the opening track on his CD â€œMy Favorite Monsterâ€, didnâ€™t fit into any neat little genre bin to easily describe it to people.
After an interesting fingerpicking section, things progress to a sort of â€œsound washâ€ of his guitar, the explosive drums of Nathan Ellmanbell and an ultra-vibey Indian female vocal from Olivia Chindamo. If you envision a jazz-Y (but definitely no oneâ€™s preconceived notion of jazz) thing that was written as the main title of an indie Bollywood movie, youâ€™re in the ball park. Rotem concentrates on keeping the power in the soundscape at first, and then lays down his particular brand of guitar improvisation over it towards itâ€™s end – an interesting start that makes you wonder what the rest was going to be like.
The title track â€œMy Favorite Monsterâ€ follows this, and is a short gorgeous sprawling medium tempo ballad with a soaring melody again sung by Olivia Chindamo, which almost seems like the second half of â€œIndian Oceanâ€. Sivan improvises around the melody, darting in and out from between the vocal phrases.
â€œMy Favorite Thingsâ€ is not the jazz standard by the same name but a sort of up tempo â€œsocial commentary groove pieceâ€ that includes some world stage peopleâ€™s sound bytes around his guitar, which moves from clean echo & reverb drenched to semi-fuzzed out. Sivan plays a Coltrane-esque sort of â€œfree but coming back to the harmonyâ€ solo thatâ€™s way more advanced than most players on the instrument can ever even get close to. The track also features the majorly fuzzed bass of Chris Gaskell that gives it an urgent urban feel. Rotem improvises rhythmically as much as melodically, and is just as likely to play a blues rock Hendrix inspired phase that he artfully moves through the time he is a parallel post bop harmony Michael Brecker type line.
One of the things that make Rotem unique amongst the new players that are emerging from New York is that he is consistently unafraid to explore his own sounds overall. This is even visually obvious just by watching the pictures of the changes he does to his guitar over the years. You will always see some new found bit or technology he wants to explore duct taped or Velcroed to the top of it, and his pedal board is constantly changing as well.
â€œAimaâ€ features another dreamy Indian-esque vocal memory that morphs into some powerful rock moments, and then a beautiful introspective jazz solo that also morphs into a power section.
â€œKnives Pt. 1â€ & â€œKnives Pt. 2â€ are companion pieces as expected. â€œPt.1â€ has the intimate unison pairing of Olivia Chindamoâ€™s vocal and Rotemâ€™s guitar on the melody, with â€œPt.2â€ moving into a more forceful section with an Indian males voice musing behind the urgent guitar improvisation.
The record totally changes gears to the â€œNorah Jonesâ€ type country pop blues of â€œInvisible Darlingâ€. The track features the excellent vocals of Sophia Urista, with Rotemâ€™s â€œreverbed out 2 & 4 backbeatâ€ rhythm guitar part as he fills around the vocal. The tune goes out on a very hip little bluesy vamp with tasty fills from Sivan. This transforms into â€œDarlingâ€ which is the kind of moody â€œtrain groove brushes on a snare drumâ€ piece that Pat Metheny is so fond of. This is some of the most lyrical soloing on the record from Rotem, alway keeping the sort of â€œmildly forlornâ€ mood up.
This kind of forward thinking jazz record is not complete without the reworking of a jazz standard, and Sivan delivers big time in that department. â€œSomeone to Watch Over Meâ€ has a fantastic chordal reharmonization with a fast 6/8 guitar propelling strumming pattern. The song features yet another great vocal this time by Gracie Terzian, which then evolves into a sort of â€œBabe, Iâ€™m Gonna Leave Youâ€ section that all of the sudden screams into the kind of rock solo that only someone that can play a LOT more than just rock can come up with. This is one of my personal favorites
The record concludes with the lovely and perfect closing â€œgoodbye vibeâ€ tune â€œHomeâ€. Rotem has layered all kinds of percussion and washing syth-esque chord clouds behind everything, that are almost an improvisation in themselves as they sonically evolve under him as he plays over it – in that way, the last few seconds of the track are not to be missed.
Overall this is a very enjoyable and impressive forward looking collection of music from a man that is definitely on his own road. Rotem is not limiting his audience to the jazz world at all and I would think that anyone looking for something fresh would want to add this record to their listening library.
July 29, 2019