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Album Review

Daniel Rotem: Wise One: Celebrating The Music of John Coltrane

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Daniel Rotem: Wise One: Celebrating The Music of John Coltrane
There was, and still is, a stunningly intricate mosaic to John Coltrane's music. His visionary art form is a gift to the world that keeps on giving. Coltrane's impressions created a legacy of beautifully conceptualized music to be absorbed and reimagined for generations to come. The music is timeless, thanks in large part, obviously, to the man they called Trane. But thanks as well to the talented musicians who have breathed in all that is Coltrane and absorbed the passion into their own hearts and souls.

Saxophonist Daniel Rotem is such an artist. After releasing four sophisticated records of original music, the saxophonist and composer was moved spiritually by Coltrane's music and his words about humanity from the book Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews (Chicago Review Press, 2012). The book is enlightening and, after all these years, still offers a new perspective on how we hear and embrace his music. Or, in the case of Rotem, ultimately his own way of playing it. The result is Wise One: Celebrating the Music of John Coltrane (Self Produced, 2022). Rotem is joined by the stellar cast of pianist Billy Childs, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, and drummer Christian Euman in a rich, smoldering, improvisational and intimate live presentation at The Blue Whale in Los Angeles. It was recorded right before the pandemic. Sadly, The Blue Whale was a casualty of the pandemic.

There is much beauty and significance in the rewrite of the arrangements. Rotem was able to play what he felt after reconstructing and developing the music with his own bold, sincere, and highly personal methodology. Coltrane took him to the river, but it was then up to Rotem to jump in, sink or swim. The music then just flowed out. Sometimes cascading, but often gentle. Rotem's selections were chosen from various works. All these songs reached and fulfilled him in different ways. He was personally attached to every note, every pause, every breath. Rotem was a 'wise one' to have a rhythm section on par with the cats Coltrane played with back in the day. Billy Childs, while being himself, clearly found his inner McCoy Tyner, as well. While this is Rotem's laboratory and playground, he was smartly generous in carving up the playing time. Childs took advantage of opportunities throughout the outing to strongly add his voice. Whether it was counterpoint, interplay, or traversing his own road, Childs brought a good deal of depth to the project. The Oleszkiewicz/Euman rhythm section slip their tight pocket wherever the music needed to go, with a feeling of ease and grace. They add their own slick touches when appropriate. But more impressively keep their cool and play just what the song needs. There is no sense of ego from any of these four stellar musicians. They instead play in service to the material and with respect to both the original master and the highly creative new arrangements.

Rotem plays with warm tones, making his approach and sound that much different than Coltrane's. His style plays well in both brightening some dark spots and casting his own net on a sea of meticulous notes. Mostly his own notes, not Coltrane's. This is an interpretation from way down inside himself, that stems from Coltrane being well-rooted in his own soul. Like Coltrane, however, Rotem gloriously takes his time and gives us several ten to twelve minute opportunities to walk deeply into the forest. Pack a backpack—a set of recurring, intrspective strolls might be in order.

The song list is below. Every tune is well thought out, yet has a supreme air of freedom. To over analyze each song is to miss the mark. Like most dense jazz records, this is intended to go the distance and to be appreciated as the full package. Coltrane wasn't that concerned whether you "got" everything in its deepest detail. Sure, the high level of complexity is there to be assessed at the most astute level of comprehension. But, as Coltrane stated in interviews, he just wanted you to feel something, to reach you and connect in some way. Rotem honors and respects those ideals by profoundly etching his spirituality with transparency. To hear and feel the honesty pouring out of an artist's soul with such authenticity is rare, and breathtaking.

Having stated some concepts and realities on what makes this project a uniquely radiant endeavor, let us be clear that this is a swingin' jazz record. Do not overthink it, just drink it in. Already a superb musician, by investing in the genius of John Coltrane, Rotem evolved even more as an artist. Presenting the music in a new light—actually many shades of light—Rotem engulfs us in the spirit, weaving his way intimately and with purpose, He gravitates to the light, illuminating many giant steps with brilliance.

Track Listing

Moment's Notice; Dahomey Dance; Syeeda's Song Flute; Wise One; Naima; Song of the Underground Railroad; Spiritual.

Personnel

Daniel Rotem: saxophone, tenor; Billy Childs: piano; Darek Oleszkiewicz: bass; Christian Euman: drums.

Album information

Title: Wise One: Celebrating The Music of John Coltrane | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Self Produced

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