One of the most exciting young jazz performers on the New York scene, Rotem Sivan is developing at a fascinating rate. Hot on the heels of Sivan's 2013 debut, Enchanted Sun (SteepleChase), comes the guitarist's new album For Emotional Use Only, featuring Haggai Cohen Milo on bass and Mark McLean on drums. This album - to be released September 2, 2014 on Fresh Sound New Talent Records - sees Sivan lead the trio in a set of beautifully textured and dynamic originals, plus fresh, individual takes on two standards.
Sivan recorded For Emotional Use Only in Brooklyn's Atlantic Sound Studios. Conducted without headphones, with no separation between the players and with a gathering of friends and followers as an audience, the session had a live, in-the-moment atmosphere. The result, with no edits and an emphasis on rich interplay and sheer allure of sound, is one of the more organic, engaging and involving guitar trio albums you're likely to hear. A glimpse of the session can be seen on Sivan's YouTube channel.
Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Sivan moved to New York City in 2008 to study jazz at the New School and pursue his dream of becoming part of the city's vibrant scene. He has developed a glowing tone and quicksilver phrasing, as well as a sophisticated sense of rhythm and an openhearted approach to melody. The guitarist came up with the title For Emotional Use Only after a visit to WDNA-FM in Miami. "I was flipping through the racks of CDs," the guitarist recalls, "and I saw a sticker on one of them that said, 'For Promotional Use Only,' misreading 'Promotional' as 'Emotional.' It struck me immediately, and as I thought it over, I realized that I wanted use the seemingly mistaken phrase for my album title as a way to convey my own relationship to music. Ultimately, what leaves the most enduring impression is the music's emotional effect."
For Emotional Use Only begins with a hypnotic bass solo, "Intro to Spirals," an unusual way to open an album led by a guitarist, yet an utterly compelling one. "It felt right for the music - which is always the choice I'll make," Sivan says. "There are many crossroads you come to when performing music. The choices you make determine where the music is going to go. Mark and Haggai make musical choices that I really appreciate - we usually know where each other is heading, and if it is a surprise, it's a good one."
Cohen Milo's bass intro is followed by "Spirals," a dusky, catchy number with a tricky rhythm of 31/16. The album's other originals include the dynamic "Sefi's Blues," the Monk-like "Pass It On" and the pensively beautiful "For Emotional Use Only," marked by a tolling bass line and golden-hued lead playing by Sivan.
There are also two tracks labeled "Blossom Interlude" interspersed on the album before the record closes with the full-on "Blossom," the ebullient material laced with subtle West African accents, rhythmically, melodically and texturally - Sivan's electric six-string sounds like a kora harp at some points and sounds like Malian-style guitar at others. The album's two standards are Jobim's lilting-yet-offbeat "Useless Landscape" and the rarely covered "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from Disney's Cinderella.
Sivan grew up digging into the legacies of guitarists from Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell to John Scofield and Pat Metheny. But in more recent years, he has been keenly influenced by pianists, from Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson to Ahmad Jamal, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. "When I listen, study and transcribe these days, it's most often from the piano," Sivan explains. "I love the sound of the instrument and the counterpoint you can achieve on the keyboard. I adapt piano exercises for the guitar, and piano trios have been the most inspirational for me in terms of the way they interact."
The All About Jazz review of Sivan's Enchanted Sun praised the debut album for its "energy, intensity and creativity," all qualities that the guitarist has amplified with his trio on For Emotional Use Only. He says: "In music, being in the moment is the point - being fully conscious of the situation, where the music is and where it's going. Even solos can be like dialogues with the other players. The best jazz groups commune with each other."
Sivan is a guitarist for the 21st century, with an international background and border-defying interests. From an early age, he was influenced by a wide range of genres, including Baroque music and classic rock, Indian classical and Middle Eastern music. In New York City, Sivan quickly became an active player and started collaborating with acclaimed musicians such as Peter Bernstein (see this video of Sivan and Bernstein playing duet on "The Way You Look Tonight"), Ari Hoenig, Colin Stranahan, Paul Bollenback and Ziv Ravitz. Sivan was a prize-winner at the Montreux Jazz Festival and has performed at the Sonora Jazz Festival in Mexico, the Bern Jazz Festival in Switzerland and numerous others. The Rotem Sivan Trio performs regularly at well-known jazz venues such as Birdland, Smalls, Le Poisson Rouge, the Bar Next Door, Fat Cat and more.