Matthew Silberman – Questionable Creatures (2012)

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When making the right first impression on record, there’s two ways the unknown musician can go with it: grab everyone’s attention via the credits list by enlisting some big names to play on the record and hope everyone clicks in the studio, or forgo the name checking and focus instead on recording with his actual working band, the guys with which there’s no worry about developing the right chemistry because the rapport is already developed. For Silberman, the decision to go down the latter path was an easy one, and Questionable Creatures, the product of his first led recording project, confirms it was the right path.

The saxophonist, composer and Santa Monica, CA native came to the studio with a vision that entailed much more than that, however. That vision was to create a quintet configuration that’s foreign to jazz, and then adapt it to jazz. Forgoing the conventional two-horn/piano/bass/drums format, Silberman replaced one horn with an electric guitar and the piano with another electric guitar; Greg Ruggiero and Ryan Ferreira alternate in those roles. Old classmates Christopher Tordini (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums) from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music fill out the rhythm section. All have performed together on and off since 2007, becoming such a tight unit by 2011 that Silberman knew it was time to make that first record.

The eight pieces Silberman wrote for Questionable Creatures follow a plan, too, a string of discreet, unspoken anecdotes taken from experiences or inspirations in Silberman’s life. Wrapped in melodies inspired as much by Radiohead or Sonic Youth as much as Rollins and ‘Trane, Silberman cast an approach that brings generations together.

It begins and ends more on the rock side of things: “Ghost of the Prairie” lumbers with a threatening, dark shuffle, with a late 80s Bill Frisell feel. Silberman gets propulsion from a barely contained Crane, and both guitarists weave billowing, spectral textures. “The Pharaoh’s Tomb” rocks hard still but it’s also Silberman’s most ambitious tune on the album: As Silberman articulates bop lines, the drums are going at double time of rhythm guitar. As Silberman stretches out the melody, Crane is all but soloing right alongside him, and later on the song glides to a soft landing before a bass n drums groove unexpectedly emerges.

More mixing and mashing occurs elsewhere. “All Day Long” liberally switches between a waltz and rock rhythms, but the real differentiator is the unique harmonics created by the two guitars where you’d expect say a Rhodes or acoustic piano. The bass riff for “The Battle At Dawn” is borrowed from Wes Montgomery’s “Four On Six,” paired to Crane’s multilayered rhythms and Ruggiero’s thoughtful solo. “Questionable Creatures” sports an Eastern European folk flavor, and the acid-toned guitar of Ferreira nicely offsets Silberman’s sweet and zesty sax.

Developing his own style and honing it into an articulate, fully developed whole, Matthew Silberman got his recording career off to a good start with Questionable Creatures. The album went on sale September 11 by the DeSoto Sound Factory. Visit Matthew Silberman’s website for more info.

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Questionable Creatures

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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