Saturday, October 13, 2012

Matthew Silberman: Unquestionably Good

One of the pleasures of the age we live in, at least for music fans, is the ability to connect to artists on a more personal level. Following Prodigy of Mobb Deep on Instagram, for example, has given me a window on his wicked sense of humor - not something usually found in his music. In the case of Breton, social media gave us an entree to have friendships IRL. Through that experience I realized how much I enjoyed being with musicians - they're the ones who are going be as passionate about music and how it works as I am. Having those kinds of rich interactions has been rarer since my high school and college days, when I played in bands, DJ'd, and had two hour phone calls about James Brown.

So, Matthew Silberman. I met him at an old friend's birthday party - they're cousins by marriage - and we hit it off. He plays the sax and is a true music fan. Over the last few months I've kept in touch with him via Facebook (and the occasional Scrabble game - he's bloody good) and watched as he's shared the process of creating his first album, Questionable Creatures. Now available, the record is alternately thorny, funky and lyrical, and displays Matt's noirish take on jazz. It's a fully contemporary affair with none of the academic flavor that sinks some current music in the genre.

The opening cut, Ghost of The Prairie, starts up with a low-end groove and nasty guitar before Matt enters with one of his typically insistent themes. His slightly pinched tone is already distinctive, which can be half the battle in trying to say something new in jazz. That he has a composer's vision is also immediately apparent. Christopher Tordini's bass can often be found playing a repeating riff, as opposed to walking the changes, and the use of two guitars gives him an unusual palette to work with. Ryan Ferreira's guitar sometimes creates shimmering washes of sound and sometimes searing leads, while Greg Ruggiero plays with a more "jazzy' tone, either chording the accompaniment or taking brief, melodic solos.

Mrs. Heimoff, the second piece, is cheerful enough, but shaded with ambiguity, and the third, Breathe, is yearning and lyrical and taken at a daringly slow tempo. The Battle At Dawn is a restless bossa and the title track an off-kilter waltz with spectacular playing by Ferreira. I particularly dig his terse and serrated playing behind the sax when the theme returns near the end of the song. Dream Machine is a splashy, languorous affair, with exemplary work by drummer Tommy Crane, who shines throughout. The Process is sprightly and a bit spiky, before the guitars stretch out in a meditative duet. The sensitivity of the rhythm section here is remarkable, alternately driving the bus or being pulled along the snaking trajectory of the tune.

The Pharoah's Tomb closes the album on an uptempo and, at times, almost aggressive note. Ferreira's slashing chords dominate the theme and there are strong solos from him and Silberman. Questionable Creatures is an accomplished and exciting showcase for Matt's playing and writing and also the first release from DeSoto, his multimedia company. You can buy the album or stream it free from their site.

In September, I went to Shapeshifter Lab, a performance space the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, for his album release party. His band was in top form and the strong structure of his compositions shone through, with sometimes explosive improvisational sections bringing significant heat. Desoto has produced short films to accompany two songs on the album; in concert they played along with projections, which was a lot of fun.

Matt is definitely one to watch - his dedication to his craft coupled with his strong artistic vision will surely bring more great music into the world. Plus he's a nice guy and I look forward to getting to know him better (and beating him at Scrabble - the moves have been few and far between since my last Bingo!).

Take a look at the phantasmagorical short film for the title track of Questionable Creatures.

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