Ben Sidran

Don't Let Go

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Issued by Blue Thumb in 1974, Don't Let Go was Ben Sidran's third for the label, and his fourth overall. After his 1971 debut on Capitol, Feel Your Groove -- a rootsy, bluesy, and jazzy rock record, populated by everyone from Peter Frampton to Jesse Ed Davis -- Sidran began to indulge his jazz muse, and by 1974 the transformation was complete; he fit right in with Blue Thumb's funky, wide-reaching jazz, funk, fusion, and whatever-else-comes-down-the-pipe-that's-interesting philosophy. After all, this was the label that had issued recordings by Phil Upchurch, Luis Gasca, Mark-Almond, Ike & Tina Turner, the Crusaders, Sun Ra, Dan Hicks, the Last Poets, the Pointer Sisters, Paul Humphrey, Captain Beefheart, and Robbie Basho, among others. The players surrounding Sidran on this session are stellar; some of them had been recording with him since his second album, I Lead a Life. The players here include Upchurch, Clyde Stubblefield, Bunky Green, Sonny Seals (the saxophonist), Tom Piazza, James Curly Cooke, and Randy Fullerton. Musically, the material walks a thin line between funky and straighter jazz and pop with an equal division between vocal and instrumental numbers over its 12 tracks. Sidran was establishing himself as a serious pianist and intricate composer, and as a songwriter with Mose Allison's sophisticated sense of irony. The set opens with the killer, funked up instrumental "Fat Jam" composed by Cooke. One can hear traces of the Bill Cosby television show in Cooke's lyric line, but with its killer shimmering cymbal work, breaks, and the low-slung yet taut bassline, it's something else, too. When Sidran's Rhodes piano kicks into high gear with the Sonny Burke-arranged horns it becomes a smoking intro to a record that, in spite of its wide-ranging ambition, succeeds on virtually every level. Being pushed to this sense of hot groove, Sidran changes up on his cover of the roadhouse standard "House of Blue Lights." It starts with a spoken word hipster rant that abruptly shifts into a fine nearly spoken read of the boogie-woogie crazy original. Sidran's pianism is red hot and rooted in the Albert Ammons stride, and the rhythm section lights it up when he goes into a solo that moves right into bebop. Given how dizzy the proceeding is, this is only the beginning; as it turns out, Don't Let Go contains some of Sidran's most memorable songs, including the darkly cool "Ben Sidran's Midnite Tango," with a fine string arrangement that outdoes Michael Franks at his own game. There is also the slow strutting jazz shuffle "She's Funny That Way" and the proto-uptown soul stepper "Hey Hey Baby." Of the instrumentals, the low-key funky jazz of "The Chicken Glide," and the now infamous "Snatch" are the highlights, but these are all terrific. Don't Let Go only made it onto CD in Japan, but that shouldn't stop you from scoring a legal download digitally or from Verve's out-of-print online store. This is a killer, adventurous record from a magical time that doesn't sound a bit dated in the 21st century.

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