Incandescent Guitarist Yotam Silberstein Returns With Standards By Miles Davis, Rodgers and Hammerstein & More: Due February 23 via Jojo Records
In the liner notes to Standards, the astonishing jazz guitarist Yotam Silberstein expresses a wish to “bear witness to the better angels of human endeavor” via music. And these six selections — associated with heavyweights from Miles Davis to Rodger and Hammerstein, Victor Young, and many more — might just prove their existence.
On Standards, which releases on February 23 via Jojo Records, Silberstein is joined by a straight-ahead legend in tenor saxophonist George Coleman, bassist’s bassist John Patitucci, and Billy Hart, a living legend of the jazz drumming lineage. Throughout, the guitarist channels the bebop and blues that forged him, into some of the most treasured songs in the Western musical canon.
As Silberstein explains, most of his albums — like 2019’s Future Memories, 2016’s The Village, and 2009’s Next Page — have consisted of original music. However, those steeped in his craft know of his tremendous respect for the tradition of Black American music. Which extends to his collegial relationship with the true heavies on the scene.
“A lot of my work here in New York in the last 20 years has been with some of the jazz masters,” Silberstein explains. “So, I wanted to, first of all, play standards because I had never had a chance to record an album of standards. And also, to do it with the real guys, you know? The heroes.”
By any stretch, Silberstein is one of those “real guys.” JazzTimes has declared his output to be “struck through with passion and intimacy. The New York Times described him as a player who “improvises in a cutting tone and writes heady original tunes that seem to tug the straight-ahead jazz tradition in new directions.” Jazziz placed him among “the most acclaimed young string-benders in the genre.”
The opening track, “Serenata,” was composed in 1947 by Leroy Anderson, and the most famous version was one put to lyrics by Mitchell Parish and sung by Nat King Cole, with George Shearing on piano. “The minute I heard this song, I fell in love with it,” Silberstein says. “We kind of took it to a different place, but I’m happy with it.”
“Beija Flor,” composed by Nelson Cavaquinho, is a terrific gateway into Silberstein’s abiding love for Brazilian music, which he has explored extensively in past works. “It’s natural to play that song,” Silberstein says, noting Hart’s long association with Brazilian masters like Joao Gilberto.
Stylistically, Yotam bears the flame of Wes Montgomery in “Lo-Joe.” As T.J. English put it in the liner notes, “for a jazz guitarist, there is no higher calling.” This is a Coleman tune — which should be a standard, and is in Silberstein’s heart and mind: “It’s a great tune that I thought needs more recognition,” he says. “Hopefully, this will shed more light on George’s beautiful compositions.”
“If I Loved You” hails from the songbook of the masters: Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rogers, for the Broadway musical Carousel. Famously, Barbra Streisand gave it a spin in the early 1960s: here, Silberstein picks up a steel-string guitar, to spiritually fold into the material via a sense of folky lyricism.
The towering pianist Tommy Flanagan wrote the swinging calypso “Eclypso”: something of a party tune, one that’s a thrill to blow on. “Never Let Me Go” is a sublime ballad written by Jay Livinston, with lyrics by Ray Evans, and interpreted by the greatest jazz voices of all time, from Dinah Washington to Nancy Wilson.
Naturally, as a standards writer of the highest order, Miles Davis makes an appearance on Standards, by way of “Little Willie Leaps” — a contrafact of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” that the future Prince of Darkness recorded with Charlie Parker.
Just after that tune displays Silberstein at his bebop best, Standards closes with the mother of them all: “Stella by Starlight.” But where some musicians might merely reheat that old standby, SIlberstein voyages to a completely new place — almost, appropriately for Silberstein, Brazilian.
“I’m just happy that they agreed to play with me,” Silberstein says of Coleman, Patitucci, and Hart. “It all seems like a dream come true to have a record with these guys with these legends.”
These songs have been performed, and performed, and performed, seemingly since time immemorial. But in these hands, the crystal is turned in the light once more, and catches more light than you could imagine. The album doesn’t just contain standards: it sets them.
- Beija Flor
- Lo-Joe (ft. George Coleman)
- If I Loved You
- Never Let Me Go (ft. George Coleman)
- Little Willie Leaps
- Stella By Starlight