As a guy who mostly covers jazz music in the recorded form, much of my attention doesn’t tend toward the local scene. When introducing myself to other San Antonians and telling them about what it is I do, I’m often asked if I ever checked out Jazz, TX, the relatively new jazz club that at the famed Pearl Brewery. Up until last night’s Rotem Sivan trio set, I hadn’t. It would take something like the Israeli-born, New York guitarist making another run through Texas in support of his new album, Antidote for me to finally make the effort to see the glitzy underground spot.
Some years ago, I realized that because I own a means of publication, I could work from there and make exactly what it is I want. Much of the work here is album reviews and elaborations on playlists, but every now and then I could make novella -length essay collections about music festivals solely because I’m my own editor. As I sat finally in the space pianist Doc Watkins made for himself, I understand this rationale. He does what he’s doing well as a bandleader, and it fits a particular niche in a particular place. I’m not bowled over by it, but he’s a big fish in a small pond with his own means of publication– he built his own pond. I can’t be that mad at it. It’s as pleasant (and overpriced) an experience as I expected it to be. I mean, the trio isn’t not good, but obvious choices are obvious. But how much of San Antonio’s fledgling jazz club audience — because as old a city as we may be and seemingly historically versed, it doesn’t show — have we been fed milk because like the Apostle Paul before us, those in the know knew we weren’t ready for meat. But damn it, if this trio didn’t serve up the sweetest milk, and whip it into a fluffiest cream. It was a well-connected, absolutely conventional, straightest-ahead of straight ahead jazz set. It got the moderately simple job done, with a more than moderate degree of aplomb.
Sivan, with his Texas quintet of bassist Richard Mikel and drummer Daniel Doufor, however, are certainly a touring band with more open inclinations. Maybe there’s something about Sivan’s super dope red Reebok hi-tops. Without some degree of ostentatiousness, white guys in suits are usually just white guys in suits, especially in jazz. The problem with a uniform is its preconceived singular form. The transition from Watkins’ early set of well-crafted standard covers to Sivan’s collection of work is a logical one, but still stark in its own way.
He begins with elaboration. Not much is straightforward in Sivan’s style of play. Sure, there’s reason and intention, there’s clear direction, but, like a writer who can’t help tossing in just one more metaphor to better illustrate his/her point, so does Rotem Sivan inflate each of his kernels into buttery, fluffy popcorn. His version of “In Walked Bud” alone, appearing from the jangly ether to arrive at something so much larger than any mere standard, inconceivably bigger than Monk, best proves his curiously large, but constrained style of play, even with the added samples of birds chirping. Of course, the secret of Sivan’s arrangement of “In Walked Bud” is in the drumming, and Austin percussionist Daniel Doufor fits in this dynamic more than sufficiently. However, the room Richard Mikel makes for himself, taking a most expressive lead on tunes and making his bass truly sin ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at either. Mikel and Doufor are the Texas sessionists for this stretch of the tour, but Sivan will be the first to say these guys are amazing players who are more than equipped to carry this weighty material across the Lone Star State.
Thus the set rolled through with songs mostly from Antidote, with all the necessary flourishes of both the album and the extra touches of a live set–the extra bit of linger of “Sun Song”, the tightness of “Aloof”, the patchwork, looping nature of “Knives” (which honestly works better live with a more pronounced backbone than on the album), the gentle but steady roll of “Shahar”. As well-executed the album is, it seems the live working of this material finds so much more to uncover when still finding the safety of its confines. Such is a testament to Sivan’s sense of arrangement– that songs so cloyingly simple can have so much to say and can find even more to say in this conversation form of talented trio players that there’s never a dull moment in his sets.
However, it’s interesting how he took more of a lead on his tune “For Emotional Use Only” — where the version prominently features Colin Stranahan, Dufour fills in more than adequately but he doesn’t fill in a the nooks and crannies the way Stranahan does on the new album. Yet the breakdown of the Bob Dylan cover, “Make You Feel My Love” is gloriously over the top to cure what ails ya’. “One for Abba” is more sprightly and fun where the album version a slightly more somber and contemplative, yet the essence of the song and its original solemnity is never lost, then it kicks in the afterburners. “Almond Tree” feels both stripped down and expanded at the same time.
As Sivan’s Antidote builds in notice and acclaim, scratching all the proper contemporary jazz itches, it’s good to know his work can always find more to explore in the trio format. As a Texan, it’s even nicer to know this state is appreciative of all they’re hearing.
Rotem Sivan is touring through Texas this week with his trio of drummer Daniel Doufour and bassist Richard Mikel, and with Gracie Terzian next week with a cluster of shows in Seattle. Check him out if he’s around.
7/28 – Houston- Cezanne
7/29 – San Antonio – Carmen’s De La Calle Cafe
7/30 – Austin – Lambert’s
7/31 – Austin – Monk’s
8/1 – Seattle – Triple Door
8/2 – Seattle – Egan’s Ballard
8/3 – Seattle – Island Duo