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James Silberstein: Song for Micaela

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One of the continuing, sobering realities of the jazz culture is that players as accomplished as James Silberstein can be such well-kept secrets. He has been on the fringes of the New York and Miami jazz scenes for more than two decades, working with Larry Elgart’s big band, Carter Jefferson, the Drifters, Dave Schnitter and Bob Hope, and playing gigs in resort hotels in Georgia and at private parties.

A primary reason for the anonymity of players like Silberstein is their lack of calling cards: CDs. On Song for Micaela, his belated recording debut, Silberstein, understandably, shows everything he can do. It all begins and ends with his warm, organic sound on electric guitar, and his single-note speed and clarity. Along the way he displays his fluency in bossa nova, blues, funk and the Great American Songbook. He also reveals his skills as an arranger, composer and leader. In this latter capacity, he starts with his working trio (bassist Tony Cimorosi and drummer Vince Cherico) and, on half of the 12 tunes, adds support staff in various configurations who are also strong leaders: trumpeter Randy Brecker, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, pianist Bruce Barth and vocalist Carla Cook.

Albums that shuttle guests in and out often lack continuity and coherence. But Song for Micaela works because those guests are committed to Silberstein’s cause, and because Silberstein’s guitar is always the central presence. He can play so fast that he likes to push. “Love for Sale” flies by in a blur, and normally slow songs (“How Deep Is the Ocean,” “You’re My Everything”) get accelerated through sheer communicative urgency. The pleasure of his lines comes not from speed alone but from speed in combination with clean articulation and elegance.

The single most rewarding piece is the solo ballad epilogue “Why Did I Choose You?” In two minutes, Silberstein’s lush tone and complex counter lines unfold an interpretation that is sensitive, detailed, and complete.