Out today is the eighth album by Israeli jazz guitar phenom Rotem Sivan. Dream Louder is like a character-driven movie. Described as “a musical love letter to his wife Lore,” five of its seven originals are sonic sketches of Lore and members of her immediate family. Apparently, you can learn a lot about a person when the musicians on the job are as talented as these. Sivan’s core trio is filled out by twenty-six-year-old Smith, a master of the upright bass even at his young age; and twenty-one-year-old drummer Miguel Russell, who’s been playing professionally for seventeen years. That’s right, says Sivan: “Believe it or not, he played his first paying gig at the age of three.” They are joined on several tracks by vocalist Sami Stevens and Luke Krafka, an accomplished classical cellist who plays no cello here but, instead, lends the album his virtuosic whistling.
No surprise, then, that Dream Louder drips with talent, but it is not mere “musician’s music”—technical pyrotechnics without soul. In fact, it is one of those rare jazz albums that even non-jazz fans can deeply enjoy. That’s because this is not your typical selection of standards, wherein each player takes the spotlight to spout whatever he pleases, without regard to an overarching vision. Rather, these are true songs, with clear, often catchy themes, around which every element is integrated in support. And what’s more, those themes are meaningful, predominantly upbeat, and emotionally potent.
On “The Tree—For Hilde” (Lore’s mother), Sivan’s clean guitar introduces not only the woman it’s dedicated to but a whole world. His sound, which seems at once both acoustic and electric, blends with Krafka’s whistling and Stevens’s wordless, ethereal vocals. Together they twinkle like stars over the desert, as drums and bass sneak up from beneath, like dunes coming into view as one flies over. The song leverages the harmonic minor, a particularly plaintive musical scale, to evoke a personality of woe but also great wisdom.
Hailing from a different planet entirely is “The Hamish,” named for the band’s bassist. If he’s anything like this track, then he’s someone I think we’d all enjoy meeting. A syncopated guitar pattern plays call and response with Stevens’s carefree vocals, painting the portrait of a guy for whom the sun is always shining. The band dances together in a simple, rising chord pattern that serves as the song’s chorus, then heads into the album’s bluesiest, most upbeat guitar solo section. Eventually, the man himself is unleashed; Hamish’s solo is a current of positive energy ready to burst out and make someone smile.
Surprisingly, “Lore Luv” (for Sivan’s wife, of course) is the album’s most aggressive number. Like “The Tree,” it has a somewhat Middle Eastern vibe, with falling minor-key guitar lines evoking something (or, rather, someone) worth one’s patient persistence. But before delivering, it takes a left turn, transforming into a fully distorted quasi-Mission Impossible theme. Sivan laughs, explaining, “that’s for when she gets ‘hangry.’ She’s pretty good at that.” Afterward, the band stealthily falls back into the opening groove as if nothing strange occurred, and Hamish takes another bass solo that shows what sort of emotional impact it’s possible to conjure from such a cumbersome instrument. This, and Sivan’s subsequent solo, featuring a Pat Metheny-esque synth-like guitar tone, bring to mind a sort of tortured self-questioning.
The real showstopper is actually “Anneleen,” written for Lore’s sister. Light, intricate guitar lines, doubled by Stevens’s airy vocals, chirp like pretty birds in the sun. Stevens glides up into an almost angelic sustained falsetto, and when you think the emotional level can’t get any higher, the whole band seemingly floats off the ground, untethered by the melodies of Sivan’s guitar. This song does not convey love but worship—admiration for a soul that is pure joie de vivre. It belongs in a movie so earnestly romantic that it likely does not yet exist.
In addition to several more intriguing character studies, the album features three well-chosen covers, including what must be the grooviest version of the Beatles classic “Blackbird” ever recorded. Sivan’s acoustic guitar is locked into Hamish’s bass, and Russell—somehow both subtle and ubiquitous—elicits different textures from all over the drum kit. Also filling this vividly three-dimensional mix is a rare overdubbed second guitar, molded with interesting spatial effects that send Sivan’s notes whirring past your head.
On Sivan’s YouTube channel, one of his most popular videos counsels guitarists to get clear on what they really love and want to accomplish on their instruments before attempting to create a practice routine—a piece of advice that holds not only for other instrumentalists but for anyone seeking to truly succeed at anything. And that’s what Dream Louder, with its positive sense of life and focus on “family, love, and humanity,” is all about. “I really like the idea of articulating our dreams and wishes,” says Sivan, because “by articulating them and even making them louder, we can, hopefully, manifest them.”
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