It takes some folks a little longer than others to develop the confidence to record an album as leader; still others never decide to do it at all. James Silberstein falls in the former group. He's been a working pro on the Georgia, Miami, and New York jazz scenes for nearly 25 years, but he's spent most of that time "flying just under the radar," at least until now.
With Song for Micaela , Silberstein has abandoned his stealth posture and emerged into radar range, both as guitarist and composer. The album is a mature effort, tasteful, skillful, and polished. Stellar sidemen assist in bringing these selections, four of which are originals, to life, with verve and vitality. The CD opens with the first original, for quartet; Randy Brecker kicks off the first solo in this mid-tempo minor-key swinger with aplomb. Silberstein comps well, and his solo revels in quick, sure runs and full, round tone. The album's only vocal follows: Sergio Mendez's lovely "So Many Stars," with Carla Cook caressing the Bergmans' wistful English lyrics; very nice stuff, with an engaging dialogue between guitar and piano solos. "Nica's Dream" cooks, with fleet solos for guitar, sax, trumpet, and then guitar again. Nearly six minutes give them time to stretch out, while the rhythm section provides a most dependable engine beneath; Harvie S's bass gently jogs, and Cherico's touch is light and delicate.
From quintet, the band expands to sextet for two originals. "Aquas" is a bluesy, 32-bar, minor amble a bit reminiscent of Bobby Timmons' tunes. Voicings in tutti passages are lush and complex, and solos are satisfying. "House Party" is energetic and funky; solos all around sizzle, although to my ear, the Fender Rhodes electric piano has a dated, retro sound. Two standards in trio format follow: Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (ever think it should've been entitled "Love for Rent?") is taken at a break-neck pace (Silberstein's solo is his nimblest performance yet), while Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" is done as a bossa/samba.
On an up-tempo "Who Can I Turn To" (I hear my old grammar teacher prompting, "To Whom Can I Turn"!), Alexander's tenor dazzles, followed by Silberstein's superlative single-note solo, reflecting his admiration for such forbearers as Bucky Pizzarelli, Mundell Lowe, and Chuck Wayne, with whom he has studied. Trio versions of "Song for Micaela," a bossa nova written for Silberstein's daughter; a medium-tempo "You're My Everything"; and the jazz waltz "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" bring us to the CD's satisfying conclusion, a brief solo rendition of "Why Did I Choose You."
Now that James Silberstein has been spotted, there's no reason for him to return to the shadows. I'm already awaiting his next foray, and if his fellow travelers are as well chosen, a pleasant journey it should be, indeed!
Track Listing: Red Carpet; So Many Stars; Nica's Dream; Aquas; House Party; Love for Sale; How Deep Is the Ocean; Who Can I Turn To; Song for Micaela; You're My Everything; Baubles, Bangles & Beads; Why Did I Choose You
Personnel: James Silberstein (guitar), Harvie S or Tony Cimorosi (bass), and Vince Cherico (drums and percussion), with Randy Brecker (trumpet), Carla Cook (vocals), Eric Alexander (tenor sax), and Bruce Barth (piano, keyboards)