The short review comes first: kudos to Silverman for taking his instrument in the direction he has, yes, even coupling the words “jazz” and “violin”. In a perfect world, musicians might follow suit. No, scratch that. It’s the unique pairing of the violin and the sometimes-stodgy genre that end up offering a balance of sorts—one that sounds good coming out of the speakers in the evening.
It’s not as if he’s the first out there to play the jazz violin, though he is one of a select few. He’s a little late in the game, actually, coming in after other already accomplished virtuosos like Regina Carter or the late Stephane Grapelli, a prime influence on Silverman’s work. After enjoying a lengthy foray into bluegrass, Silverman’s Blue Moods shows the French-American, at least in part, following a new path. And, while not an especially adventurous approach—the solos are almost too short in spots, while allowing the four others playing with him their due—he has set himself apart from the rest. There are no quick familiar melodies of other songs within any of the standards he tackles. His take on Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” sticks quite close to any number of past versions. It’s his determination at keeping this album so rooted in straightahead jazz, though, which causes it to come off smelling like a rebirth of sorts. And, at a time when the American public is embracing its past and buying up scads of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Silverman’s approach is one that’s also just as easy to adhere to. It sounds so refreshingly old and dirty. Stripped of his troupe—Stefan Karlssan on piano, Pat Bergeson on guitar, Roger Spencer on bass, and Chris Brown on drums—it’s a bit like taking at trip back in time.
Try the first minute of “Beautiful Love”, for example. Gone are the rhythmic bounces of the piano and gently leading taps on the snare as one is left with just Silverman on his instrument to show off what it is he can do. He does more of the same on an intimate “You’ve Changed”, though it’s a bit more like the jazz trio playing at one of any 50-100 weddings you’ve been to. Normally, that might be considered an insult. There are few in the jazz industry who want to equate their music for stuff someone can listen to in the background; it’s akin to an audience automatically saying they’d prefer not to give their undivided attention to the performance. That concept, though, is a double-edge sword—on the other end, a jam jazz band like Sex Mob probably ostracize would-be enthusiasts immediately, based solely on the loud volume and intensity they perform with. Silverman and crew tend to pander to both crowds, however. While you might be comfortable booking him for your daughter’s nuptials, the playing is always going to lean towards the light and mellow. Chances are he’d be drawing more of a crowd than the bride and groom, even.
Just three originals are offered in the bunch here, all falling in line quite comfortably with the likes of Ellington (“In a Sentimental Mood”, “In a Mellow Tone”) and Hart and Rodgers (“Bewitched”). His own “Bee’s Bounce” is lively enough to be considered a ragtime, but could rest very comfortably in being bop. And he does a fine job of “Bewitched.” If you really strain your ears enough, you’ll swear you can hear Ella singing softly. Strain a bit closer still and discover it’s really his violin.