This wonderful double-album set by Israeli saxophonist Daniel Rotem aspires to serenade the future, but it most definitely serenades the listener. With five-string violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, pianist Miro Sprague, acoustic bassist Alex Boneham, and drummer Roberto Giaquinto aboard (guitarist Jeff Parker and vocalist Erin Bentlage also make appearances), the instrumental resources Rotem mustered for the sessions are robust, yet the album’s tone is generally mellow and appealingly so. All involved perform with incredible sensitivity to texture and dynamics, with the leader’s breathy tone enveloped by the sometimes rubato-styled playing of his partners.
Rotem’s future-oriented sensibility is rooted in that fact that the past can’t be altered whereas the future can, and one of the ways to do that is by embracing certain values in the present and manifesting them in our behaviours and choices. A positive spirit by nature, Rotem recommends acknowledging present blessings as a step towards maximizing future potential. Serenading the Future thus acts as humble call to arms, so to speak, a call to recognize all that we have to be thankful for and to respect the rights of others. It hardly surprises that the album’s material eschews resignation for hope and that it favours community over the individual. To that end, while Rotem’s playing is very much central to the project, the others’ voices are critical, too. Much of the collection, Rotem’s follow-up to his 2017 debut album Be Nice, is pitched at a ballad level, though a few uptempo cuts document his more exuberant side.
Parker’s sole appearance is on the opening cut, “Different but the Same,” a beautifully rendered meditation whose pulse-free design accentuates the collective’s textural handling of Rotem’s material. The guitarist’s tremolo-laden intro immediately lends the track a dreamlike aura that the saxophonist perpetuates with a soft, velvety purr. Cymbal flourishes and brushed drums merge with atmospheric violin and piano shadings to deepen the music’s enhancing effect. Solo turns by Parker, the leader, and violinist follow, with each sequence complementing the wave-like movements generated by the accompanists. It’s a remarkably sustained performance by the six players and a magnificent portal into this special recording. Adding to the music’s appeal is Rotem’s tenor tone, which is never raw or abrasive but instead soothing (in ballad mode there are moments when his playing invites comparison to Joe Lovano and/or Joe Henderson).
Rather more animated is “Push Through,” whose uplift is bolstered by a singing theme voiced with palpable joy by the violinist and saxophonist, and in an unusual twist, the set includes a live performance, specifically of “Between Lives” from the Blue Whale in Los Angeles (the other ten pieces were laid down at LA’s Tritone Recording studio). Crowd and club noises are audible during this trio performance but hardly detract from the heartfelt interplay between Sprague, Atwood-Ferguson, and the leader on soprano. Elsewhere, Bentlage’s wordless vocalizing blends magically with Rotem’s sax in both the elegant samba-like tropicalia of “Good News” and the title track, a graceful ensemble-focused exercise. Serenading the Future also sees Rotem loosening the reins for two group improvisations (including the at times turbulent “Conversation on Letting Go”) that highlight the attentiveness of the musicians on the project. For a prime example of the musicians’ rapport consider “Look Again,” where the fluid interplay is at a noticeably high level, even if much the same could be said of any other performance.
All of the musicians distinguish themselves, each imbuing Rotem’s material with personality yet never so much that the fine balance achieved so scrupulously by the collective is disrupted. The front-line combination of saxophone and violin is unusual by jazz standards yet the pairing of Rotem’s breathy blowing and Atwood-Ferguson’s vibrant expressions is also one of the recording’s most appealing aspects. A mature statement and one of which its creator can be justifiably proud, Serenading the Future sets a considerably high bar for whatever Rotem might do next. Perhaps there’s no need for him to worry on that front: the evidence at hand argues he should be more than capable of living up to such expectations.