Ben Sidran – Ben there, done that / Ben Sidran Live Around the World (1975-2015) — Sunset Boulevard Records SBR-7934- 3 CD: 55:01, 55:52, 54:09  ****:

Release Date: Nov. 9, 2018

One cool cat… That’s Ben Sidran. As well as being a jazz based keyboardist and vocalist, Ben is also a producer, label owner, author, and radio host. His book, Talking Jazz, An Oral History-43 Conversations, shows his vast knowledge of jazz (he has a PhD in Musicology), and he holds his own, interviewing a “who’s who” of jazz legends, including Miles Davis (no easy task) and Dizzy Gillespie.

What sets Ben aside as a musician is an hipness, both in his lyrics, and his skills as a keyboardist. His compositions are infectious and swinging, in a manner combining the soulfulness of a Horace Silver, and the cool sensibility of Mose Allison (to whom Sidran has often been compared). His lyrics are firmly with beat poets, and his musical arrangements, heavy with a shuffle beat, have an easy going languorous vibe, like sipping a cool drink on a hot and muggy day, kicking back, being content and satisfied, yet pontificating on the ways of the world.

Music archivist, and “jazz detective,” Zev Feldman, working with Sunset Boulevard Records, has collaborated with Ben to release a career defining retrospective, spanning four decades (1975-2015). All the material (live radio and club dates) is previously unreleased. What unifies all the tracks is a toe tapping joy, whether playing with lesser known musicians, or with nationally known artists like Phil Woods and David “Fathead” Newman. His lyrics concentrate, in a stream of conscious fashion, on the need for love between all kinds of people, or as he aptly puts it, “take me out with love.” The venues for these unreleased gems cover from the US to Paris, Milan, Tokyo, London, to Osaka.

The natural match for Sidran’s keyboards is the saxophone, and Bob Malach, is the most common partner. Ben’s son, Leo, is his featured drummer. Several other saxophonists replace Malach at different times over the years.

Birk’s Works” opens CD 1 from a radio broadcast in Minneapolis in 1975. It’s rock with bop overtones, and has guitarist, Curley Cook taking lead. “The Groove is Gonna Get You” from Paris in 2015, is an extended jam with a beat poet rap. “The Funkasaurus” has Bob Malach doing some serious sax honking and the pot is stirred HARD.

Portrait Ben Sidran

Ben Sidran
by Bruno Charavet

That’s Life I Guess” is a sweet ballad with some mellow “old school” sax. “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” shows the uptempo side of Sidran. “Dying Anyway” provides food for thought on our ultimate journey. “On the Road Again” highlights Ben’s blues credentials, that were shown on early Steve Miller Blues Band material. Kudos to JJ Milteau on harmonica.

Ballin on the Reservation” (not what you think) on CD 2, is straight ahead sax blues, while “Hard Times” has “Fathead” Newman performing his signature tune with Sidran from a May, 2008 date at New York’s Jazz Standard club. From the same club on a different date, we hear Phil Woods tackle “Minority.”

New York State of Mind” from Billy Joel is a natural step for Sidran as its lyrics are right in the ball park for Ben’s style. “Piano Players” is Sidran’s tribute to piano legends, and like Dave Frishberg does with baseball players’ names, Ben covers a lot of ground mentioning his favorite pianists.

CD 3 has Sidran, in a sardonic fashion with a cheery catchy melody, pointing out that there are some people that can’t have a song written about them on “Song for a Sucker Like You.” As expected from Ben, “On the Sunny side of the Street” is given a hip arrangement. Ricky Peterson’s synthesizer brings a modern twist to Sidran’s current Japanese culture tune, “Mitsubishi Boy.”

Straighten Up and fly Right” is made to order for Ben Sidran. It’s a little bit of a wink and a nod. “Lip Service” with its funky arrangement and synth will please fans of Steely Dan.” “My Little Sherry” has some nice scat vocal riffs from Ben and Joy Dragland.

The closing track, “Life’s a Lesson” is a duet with Ben and Italian singer, Giorgia. It is a sweet finish to an excellent career retrospective of a musical renaissance man. Ben Sidran provides some wise life lessons in a relaxed, funky groove.

Highly recommended…

Performing Artists:

Ben Sidran – piano, Hammond B-3, vocals; with various accompanying musicians, including: Bob Malach – saxophone, Bob Rockwell – saxophone; Alphonso Deidda – saxophone; Billy Peterson – bass; Leo Sidran – drums; Ricky Peterson – synth; and special guests: David “Fathead” Newman and Phil Woods – saxophones


Disc 1:
Birks’ Works
The Groove is Gonna Get You
The Funkasaurus
That’s Life I Guess
You Can’t Judge a Book
The House of Blue Lights
Dying Anyway
On the Road Again
Revenge of the Funky Duck

Disc 2:
Ballin’ on the Reservation
Blue Minor
Hard Times
NY State of Mind
Let’s Make a Deal/Absent Soul
Piano Players

Disc 3:
Song for a Sucker Like You
On the Sunny side of the Street
Mitsubishi Boy
Straighten Up and Fly Right
Lip Service
Walking With the Blues
Just a Dream
Language of the Blues
Too Hot to Touch
My Little Sherry
Life’s a Lesson

Jeff Krow