Ben Sidran's Totally Hip 35th Solo Album
Unlimited Media 5638090383
In his written notes for this upbeat retro CD, Ben Sidran reminds us that hipster was originally a term used during Prohibition to describe a dude who arrives at a club with a flask in his hip pocket. If you were "hip," it meant you had booze. Later on, other meanings started to define the word -- anti-establishment, cooler than cool, the height of "it." Cannonball Adderley is credited with saying, "Hipness is not a state of mind. It's a fact of life."
Ben Sidran hits hip and cool from every angle on this disc. Sidran is 69, and his fame goes way back to co-writing "Space Cowboy" for the Steve Miller Band. His credits also include the Peabody Award for the Jazz Alive! show on NPR and an Emmy-nominated album, The Concert for Garcia Lorca. Don't Cry for No Hipster is his 35th solo album. He shows no signs of slowing down; if anything, he's better than ever.
Mostly Sidran sings, intones, and raps narratives over some of the coolest bop and bebop music you've ever heard. He plays piano, Wurlitzer piano, and Hammond organ with complete ease and unquestionable virtuosity. His amazing backing group includes his son, Leo Sidran, on drums; Will Bernard on guitar; Moses Patrou on percussion; Tim Luntzel and Orlando le Fleming on bass; John Ellis and Mark Shim on saxophone; and Trixie Waterbed on backing vocals.
Sidran wrote a dozen of the songs and picked two by other musicians: "Reflections" by Thelonious Monk and "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis (which works amazingly well -- it's the best version I've heard). Among Sidran's own songs are "Brand New Music," a wry observation on an idea of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The four verses have the same refrain with a pertinent noun change:
With (a) car/job/girl/friends like that
What could possibly go wrong?
Brand new music, same old song
A consummate wordsmith, Sidran makes one song amusing with a lack of text. A paean to lack of communication, "Can We Talk" has for its five-and-half-minute duration only this text:
Are we rolling?
Can we talk?
I'm not saying
In the title song he virtually defines hipster this way:
He'll tell you "I'm tired of being so hip
It's like waiting for that ship
that don't never come in"
But check out the grin
Making his final point about the ultimate hipster:
If you can't laugh at life you're through
But if you have to cry
If you have to cry then make it tears of joy
Because we're here and then we're gone
And gone is one thing he can do
The recorded sound has tremendous presence; it's like having a ringside seat at a table in a moderate-sized club. This CD is one of the most refreshing recordings I've heard this year. I have to go refresh my memory of the other 34 discs. Thank goodness for MOG, which has 16 of them.
Be sure to listen to: The unusual but "right as rain" piano counterpoint in "Sixteen Tons" and the solo sax playing on "Reflections" are both equally brilliant.
. . . Rad Bennett