(Rotem Sivan) 

“There is definitely an Israeli approach to Jazz. Sometimes we call it ‘Falafel Jazz’ as a joke. I think this is because Israel is a place where cultures collide-East and West mix. Israeli Jazz brings an interesting flavor that is distinguished,” says jazz guitarist Rotem Sivan, an Israeli transplant currently based in New York city.

Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Sivan originally cut his teeth studying classical composition at the Tel-Aviv University  Music Academy. In 2008, Sivan came to the United States in order to pursue jazz studies at the New School in New York City. Since then, he has gone on to become a regular performer at some of New York’s finest jazz venues such as The Bar Next Door and Smalls. Along the way, he even managed to capture the attention of legendary guitarist Peter Bernstein, who recently stated that Sivan is “the next guitarist of our times.” Last year, Sivan played a series of guitar duo dates with Bernstein but he is only one of the many former teachers he has gotten the chance to work with professionally. 

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Last year, Sivan also had the opportunity to work with New School faculty members, Bassist Ben Street and Drummer Ari Hoenig.Ben is an amazing person and an extremely talented musician. He showed me how to aspire for more. Ari’s approach to time, rhythm & composition are absolutely beautiful. He told me once, ‘repetition creates context.’ It's so true and in improvised music, I feel it's a very significant point to remember. I had the privilege to play a few shows with Ari as well this year, he is a true master.”

But what is it that makes Rotem Sivan something of an anomaly in the cutthroat world of New York jazz? Generally speaking, the modern landscape of jazz guitar has been saturated with a plethora of young players who continuously place a premium on histrionics over tradition. Walk into to the practice rooms of any contemporary jazz studies program in America and one is bound to find a group of students reinterpreting the American songbook in an increasingly harmonically dissonant and abstract way. Believe me, Sivan can do all that. However, what separates him from the pack is his seemingly innate ability to bridge the increasing divide between the jazz tradition’s blues aesthetic and the current music’s newfangled approach. “Blues is a very important vain within jazz. I like hearing people play it, I always feel like they really mean the phrases they play. It's as if they hear it very clear in their mind, so it comes out really beautifully. There is something very real and deep in it,” says Sivan. 

Sivan’s proclivity for both traditional and evolutionary compulsions is wonderfully illustrated on his latest offering, "For Emotional Use Only." The 10-track trio recording, which also features fellow Israeli-born bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and drummer Mark McLean, runs through a wide-spectrum of stylistic leanings. Compositions like "Spirals" and "For Emotional Use Only" display an ambience analogous to modern jazz, while tunes like "Sefi Blues" and "Pass it on" emphasize a conventional “swing” feel. Within the context of Sivan’s meticulously crafted improvisations, one can clearly hear the influence piano players have had on his approach. For example, he often employs a “call and response” technique that harkens back to the quartal stylings of Pianist McCoy Tyner. 

Experienced jazz listeners will instantly recognize the use of contrapuntal lines reminiscent of contemporary players like Brad Mehldau  and Keith Jarrett. Of course, between the spaces Sivan intentionally leaves open, one will hear chromatic flurries redolent of guitarists like Pat Metheny and John Scofield. What’s most striking about "For Emotional Use Only" is the fact that it was recorded live and features no overdubs or punch-ins; a rarity in today’s times. 

“The Idea is to capture something very real that happens in a specific moment in time and to have the energy and feel of a show recorded. In the studio we played a set of live music and for our audience, there is something very strong in that I believe.” 

For Emotional Use Only is available now on Fresh Sound Records. 

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