2015 appears to be the year I am once again falling in love with guitar led jazz trios. There have been some wonderful releases so far, none more so than Lage Lund’s “Idlewild” released earlier this year. New York would seem to be the place to be at the moment. As with Lage Lund, Rotem Sivan is also based in the Big Apple, with the similarities not ending there. Both Lund and Rotem have worked with the excellent bass player Ben Street, and both guitarists share an understated, thoughtful style that simply oozes quality. On “A New Dance” Israeli born guitarist Rotem Sivan is joined by Haggai Cohen-Milo on bass and Colin Stranahan on drums. The trio have been performing in world class venues such as The Blue Note, Birdland and Smalls, as well as various festivals and clubs throughout Europe and the Americas. Together they deliver an engaging musical language that transcends cultural borders, presenting intricate musical ideas that are performed in an almost casual sounding, elegant and effortless way.
Sivan’s music draws on many influences, from jazz, classical and folk, all wonderfully integrated into his own unique sound. In bassist Cohen-Milo and drummer Stranahan he has two exemplary musicians providing not just the quintessential trio back-up, but intelligent and important contributions that add to the feel, tone, colour and texture of the music being performed. The album is made up of 10 tunes; 7 originals and 3 standards. From the opening bars of the title track “A New Dance”, the listener is drawn in by the free-flowing, hypnotic-like vibe being created. Sivan’s writing is mesmeric, filled with jazz-folk tinged melancholy and yet at the same time being awash with an uplifting warm and gentle positivity. The guitarist’s soloing is melodic and entertaining without ever becoming borishly overbearing. Thoughtful, intricate patterns are interspersed with beautifully constructed chord changes, the trio combining with a rare style and originality. “Sun and Stars” is a short yet affecting piece that could easily be a tune taken from the Nick Drake songbook. The Earl Brent- Matt Dennis composition “Angel Eyes” begins with a Pat Metheny-esque textural intro before launching into full flow which sees Sivan performing with an emotional strength and power, with more than a touch of the John Schofields about him. Cohen-Milo’s bass brings out the melody on this piece in some style. Colin Stranahan’s drumming is the key to “One For Aba”, with the guitar and bass combining beautifully on this archetypal trio piece. The original “Yam” takes the presence and feel of a Leonard Cohen tune and effortlessly twists its melancholic meanderings into a moving, melodic jazz-folk masterpiece. The touch and the feel of Sivan’s playing is understated brilliance. Reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s 1983 recording “Rejoicing” with Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden, “I Wish You Were Here” is the trio at their most sensitive, thoughtful and gently provocative. Monk’s “In Walked Bud” captures the spirit of the original tune with drums and bass building into a lush swing, allowing Sivan to at first hypnotise and then truly sparkle with some of the album’s strongest soloing. Stunning technique and virtuosity. There’s even time for the guitarist to change his guitar sound half way through into what could best be described as a harmonised Wurlitzer sound. There’s a distinct change of pace with “Almond Tree”, a beautifully delivered vocal track featuring the subtle voicings and harmonies of Daniel Wright. Then it’s back to the jazz for “Fingerpints”, The trio’s natural confidence there for all to witness with some outstanding interplay from the threesome. There’s even more variety added with the inclusion of guest tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur on the final track, Jule-Styne- Sammy Cahn’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. Personally I’m still in two minds as to the inclusion of this, and the aforementioned vocal track on the album. Whilst both pieces are incredibly good in their own right, there is doubt in my mind as to whether they sit comfortably with the balance of the rest of the album, especially when the vibe from the trio is so good in its own right. That’s a fairly minor concern though to be honest, as the music throughout “A New Dance” is impeccable. I’m particularly struck by Sivan’s originality, not just in his writing but also in his playing style. The combination of stunning technical ability mixed with an open ear for subtlety and grace makes for a highly rewarding listen. On this evidence the guitarist will go far, with the future of the guitar trio in safe and exciting hands thanks to yet another not-so-native New Yorker.