Rotem Sivan Dreams Out Loud

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“I love the idea of articulating our dreams and wishes and in a way ‘shouting’ them in our mind — the same way the great Dizzy Gillespie talks about hearing the melodies loudly,” says guitarist Rotem Sivan.

(Photo: Dani Barbieri)

Rotem Sivan, the Israeli-born guitarist who has established himself as a strong new voice after moving to New York in 2008, is, by now, an artist to be reckoned with in the crowded modern jazz guitar scene. He possesses prodigious technique and talent, fortified by a sense of adventure and heady sophistication — but also savors a moving melody and an infectious groove. A decade after his debut album, Enchanted Sun (Steeplechase), Sivan returns with his eighth and possibly richest record to date, Dream Louder, attesting to the boldness of his voice and musical mission.

Sivan took an important and perhaps inevitable journey in moving to New York to study at The New School. It was a natural landing spot in his formative years. “We learn from our environment and colleagues,” he says, “so being in this city and exposed to so much creation in every spectrum was, and still is, huge for me. Getting your ass kicked at sessions, jams and recording always pushed me forward. This city is wild, but I do feel it’s a very strong catalyst for creation.”

As a notable current leg of his own ongoing musical journey, Sivan’s Dream Louder is a calling card. At root, it is an album featuring his empathetic trio, joined by bassist Hamish Smith and drummer Miguel Russell, but with the surprisingly seamless textural cameos of vocalizing and whistling expanding the guitar trio palette.

Speaking of his guiding concept for the album, Sivan said, “I love the idea of articulating our dreams and wishes and in a way ‘shouting’ them in our mind — the same way the great Dizzy Gillespie talks about hearing the melodies loudly. The album is dealing with people and taking inspiration from a few musical veins including folk, metal, Indian and Appalachian.

“I really like sounds and enjoy finding truthful expressions of intentions in many art genres — and also in food, to be honest. I see the idea of intention as love, in that sense when an artist really means something and gives his/her attention — love — there’s true magic, when we’re talking about the making of an espresso, a croissant or a jazz trio album.”

Dream Louder boasts several of Sivan’s diverse original tunes, but also takes some creative turns in the cover tune cause, giving new flavors to The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife” (in a lazy, loping “Poinciana”-esque feel) and a new take on Jean Ritchie’s classic American folk tune “West Virginia Mine Disaster.”

As he explains, the concept for that folkloric journey started with a visit to “a dusty attic at my wife’s parents’ [home]. I was sifting through some gems from her grandfather’s vinyl collection and stumbled upon some cool Appalachian sounds that made me go deeper into that world and wrote this arrangement for ‘West Virginia Mine Disaster.’ The songs were written with a person in mind and it’s [a process of] calling for all of us to seize our dreams and go for it. The songs were all an interesting dialogue between the image and the sound while I was imagining and trying to find the person’s true song.”

In general, Sivan is aware of and thankful for the special chemistry that exists within the trio. “Making music is a very personal process where I want to feel at home but also challenged,” he says. “Having great people, friends and truly wild musicians to make music with is a blessing. At rehearsal I showed Miguel a groove in 11 on top of the main groove in 4 (over ‘Magis’). He said it’s really hard, then after 35 seconds he played it flawlessly.”

As for the refreshing touches of vocals (from his vocal teacher Sami Stevens) and whistling (a cellist comrade, Luke Krafka), Sivan explains that “the sounds of folklore music where the human vocal sounds — whistling and voice — are an element is a magical sound to me, one that holds a lot of expression. I feel there’s a lot of space to explore those sounds in an instrumental landscape as well. I was trying to find the silver lining between the trio and the vocal cords throughout the album.”

Apart from the various conceptual frameworks and afterthoughts represented by the album, the centerstage expressive force comes from Sivan’s guitar work, mostly in clean-toned, limber and tastefully phrased modes. Tucked into his playing are subtle hints of Israeli musical harmonies and ornamentations. Sivan’s playing can be reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s guitaristic voice, along with echoes of such serpentine-linear guitar legends as the late Pat Martino and Peter Bernstein — both of whom have sung Sivan’s praises.

Citing a short list of guitar-playing heroes including Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Kenny Burrell and many more, Sivan admits, “I do love guitar, that’s for sure. I also am a big fan of piano music and look up to the classical masters like Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz and more recently Daniil Trifonov, as well as many jazz masters we all know well.”

Dream Louder takes its place in what is clearly a continuum of creative canvases for Sivan, with more to come. In short, the album format helps to define his journey: “I see making albums as sort of a snapshot of reality and how I see, feel and experience things at a certain time. The idea that we can frame that moment and stop time that way is very special, and I care for it very much.” DB



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