Dark Pensive Sounds from Matthew Silberman
There is no ostentation on Matthew Silberman’s new album Questionable Creatures. The dynamic shifts stay for the most part within a narrow range: the energy on this album is created as the band maintains tension and ramps it up, often by simply staying where they are. That can be a hard line to walk, but more often than not they pull it off, the tenor saxophonist and bandleader joined by Ryan Ferreira and Greg Ruggiero splitting duties on guitar, with Chris Tordini on bass and Tommy Crane on drums.
This group doesn’t waste notes: several of the tracks here including the opener, Ghost of the Prairie, are practically minimalist. On that one, Silberman plays with a casual wariness over Ferreira’s keening atmospherics, Crane immediately setting a tone he’ll maintain throughout the album, establishing a distantly ominous rumble rather than taking centerstage with any kind of pummelling crescendo. The second track, Mrs. Heimoff, veers from a jazz waltz to straight-up, Silberman getting as warm and lyrical as he’ll do here; the way that Ferreira trails the beat with his echoing phrases before the final chorus is one of the album’s high points.
Breath (an original, not the Pink Floyd song) works airily suspenseful variations on a guitar loop, eventually establishes a rhythm and goes out slow and swaying with Crane’s elegant cymbal work. The Battle at Dawn portrays less of a struggle than simply a struggle to get out of bed, with a terse In a Silent Way melody lit up by Ruggiero’s bright melodicism paired off against Crane’s caveman-on-the-horizon beats. The title track is absolutely Lynchian, taking a blithe Mexican folk theme abruptly and memorably into murky, apprehensively modal terrain and then back again with not a little irony. Dream Machine, essentially a deconstructed anthem with compartmentalized voicings, is the most free piece here; they follow it with another jazz waltz, The Process, which finally hits a rampaging crescendo carried by Ruggiero before winding out rather ambiguously. The Pharaoh’s Tomb serves as the coda here, Ferreira’s guitar setting up a hot/cold dynamic with his acidic sostenuto that they take out in with a quick explosion straight out of 1975-era King Crimson. Those who are looking for a lot of those kind of swells will have to look elsewhere, but for fans of darker, more introspective jazz, this is a great listen.
And it comes with a poster! When’s the last time you picked up an album with one of those? If you’re lucky, maybe a used copy of Quadrophenia from some street vendor? With its disembodied facial parts set against an arid Tattooine desert, Sandra Reichl’s illustration is like a Dali outtake: it’s not clear if there’s any connection to the content on the album, but it’s sure nice to have something new and cool for the wall here. Silberman and the band play the album release show on Sept 25 at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus.
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