Rotem Sivan – “My Favorite Monster”

Rotem Sivan – “My Favorite Monster”

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 shouldn’t have been surprised that “Indian Ocean”, the opening track on his CD “My Favorite Monster”, didn’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 “sound wash” 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 one’s preconceived notion of jazz) thing that was written as the main title of an indie Bollywood movie, you’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 it’s end – an interesting start that makes you wonder what the rest was going to be like.

The title track “My Favorite Monster” 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 “Indian Ocean”. Sivan improvises around the melody, darting in and out from between the vocal phrases.

“My Favorite Things” is not the jazz standard by the same name but a sort of up tempo “social commentary groove piece” that includes some world stage people’s sound bytes around his guitar, which moves from clean echo & reverb drenched to semi-fuzzed out. Sivan plays a Coltrane-esque sort of “free but coming back to the harmony” solo that’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.

“Aima” 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.

“Knives Pt. 1” & “Knives Pt. 2” are companion pieces as expected. “Pt.1” has the intimate unison pairing of Olivia Chindamo’s vocal and Rotem’s guitar on the melody, with “Pt.2” moving into a more forceful section with an Indian males voice musing behind the urgent guitar improvisation.

The record totally changes gears to the “Norah Jones” type country pop blues of “Invisible Darling”. The track features the excellent vocals of Sophia Urista, with Rotem’s “reverbed out 2 & 4 backbeat” 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 “Darling” which is the kind of moody “train groove brushes on a snare drum” 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 “mildly forlorn” 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. “Someone to Watch Over Me” 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 “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” 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 “goodbye vibe” tune “Home”. 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.

Doug Perkins

July 29, 2019