Rotem Sivan always surprises on the guitar. Oh, sure, his songs start off unassuming. One would think they’re simple little low-energy guitar songs. They can be somber and chill, but they’re sneaky. They take sudden musical turns that one wouldn’t anticipate. They’re playful like puppies that don’t have expectations. They unfold in such a way that the ends of them completely belie how jamming they can truly be, song after song. And this is just talking about the arrangements. Yes, Rotem Sivan always surprises on the guitar and he did it again on his new album, A New Dance.
So yes, it’s a guitar/bass/drums album. Sivan’s trio has changed up from last year’s equally impressive For Emotional Use Only, keeping Haggai Cohen Milo on bass but Mark McLean is changed out for Colin Stranahan on drums for a more varied sound. In fact, some of the most interesting albums of this year have featured Stranahan’s playing– A New Dance, Michael Janisch’s Paradigm Shift, ARK’s self-titled album, Tomoko Omura’s Roots. Stranahan has been a dynamo for a while but his versatility between bands, between songs, and between measures, even, is why he’s such a captivating drummer. Meanwhile, Milo continues to be a riveting bassist, grooving with Sivan more than adeptly and stepping out on his own with melodies as sweet as agave nectar.
It’s an all-around strong album. The title track opener makes a left turn at an unforeseen fork in the road and goes on one hell of a fun, bumpy ride. “Sun and Stars” is a pleasant and replayable a fun little composition as the “Blossom” interludes were on Sivan’s last album. “Angel Eyes” is not just another cover of “Angel Eyes” to much relief. However, this arrangement goes above and beyond any mere tinkering. It’s oblique, then muscular. It’s an assassin in the night. The same approach happens later with an equally lively take on “In Walked Bud”. Even the standards are here take fun lefts.
“Yam” unwinds easily but isn’t so easy, giving Stranahan quite the few bars to quietly blow the lid off things. It’s one of those Rotem Sivan compositions that tumbles over on itself so many times and you never want it to stop, like kids in a park on a spring day.
The easiest going song on the album has to be “Almond Tree” featuring Daniel Wright on vocals. It’s the most straight-ahead, perfect for an afternoon spent in a Starbucks song on the album, but while its pleasantness could feel like the sanding off of edges, it, too, fits in this easy going collection of songs that it, too, can surprise in how enticing it is.
“Almond Tree” feat. Daniel Wright
This is what Sivan does. He’s not just another guitarist. He’s not just another jazz musician from Israel who moved to New York. One could easily fall under the trap of making assumptions of him like this, without getting at how truly great his songs are in their depth without losing accessibility. In this, too, Sivan is a constant surprise, and A New Dance continues to prove this.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.