Ben Sidran

Feel Your Groove

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Released in 1971, Feel Your Groove was Ben Sidran's debut solo album, released on Capitol -- the same imprint as the Steve Miller Band. Sidran and Miller went back more than a decade before that as friends and collaborators, first in the Ardells in Madison, WI, and later in the Steve Miller Band. Sidran was not an original member, but played piano, wrote songs, and did production work for the SMB for several years. Feel Your Groove was the very beginning of a long, quirky, varied, and sometimes puzzling series of albums that embraced everything from jazz to rhythm & blues to rock to soul and even disco. The set was produced by Sidran and guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, and features a host of old and new friends, like former Steve Miller bandmates Curley Cooke and Boz Scaggs, jazz trumpeter Blue Mitchell (who would collaborate with Sidran until his death), string arranger Nick DeCaro, Mimi Fariña, Charlie Watts, Jim Keltner, Willie Ruff, and Peter Frampton and Greg Ridley of Humble Pie! The music ranges from dirty-assed rock and R&B numbers like "Poor Girl," with Davis laying down the distorted funk, Sidran playing both the B-3 and electric piano, and a smoking, buzzy bassline by Arnold Rosenthal. It also has two drummers in Keltner and Gary Mallaber. This is one of those cuts that Sidran may never play again, but it's amazing and a wonder that the breaks and B-3 interludes have never been sampled.

The title cut, which he would re-record for Free in America five years later, is a perfect example of his trademark sound and lyric style: Sidran's manner lies in catching the subtle, juxtaposing it against the obvious with a clever, wry sense of humor, and marrying it to a laid-back, fingerpopping beat with a jazzy groove that offers both his tattered barfly elegance, his supreme sense of cool, and his very human set of emotions. This also happens in the bluesier, much more cynical "Racine Bovine." The funkier side of his subtle but sophisticated and intimate lounge act demeanor is inherent in "About Love," with Cooke's funky guitar groove and the Rhodes piano fills. "Alexander's Rag Time Band," with Mitchell's trumpet bumping up against a B-3 treated with a distortion pedal and Cooke wailing on the guitar, brings 1960s Blue Note soul-jazz to the early Prestige and Mainstream Records funk of the '70s, bridged by a hard bopper's sense of time in placing Mitchell's solo in exactly the right spot. The other notable thing about Sidran is his vocal style. While his voice has never been exceptional in terms of its actual quality, he uses it so musically, with enough reserve, restraint, and savvy in his phrasing, that it's a delight to listen to. It comes in equal parts from Mose Allison, Mark Murphy, the hepcat swing of Babs Gonzales, and the cool of June Christy. Check out the cut "Try," with a wonderful bassline by Ruff, amazingly colorful strings by DeCaro, and Mitchell's bluesed-out trumpet. Feel Your Groove isn't a perfect album, but it is a very fine one, and offers proof that Sidran was already in full possession of his gifts as a writer, producer and arranger. His sense of direction is more focused here than it was on some of his subsequent early-'70s outings, but that means nothing: he's made a career out of his restlessness, his sense of perfectionism, and his polymath's ease of execution. This set holds up amazingly well in the 21st century, and proves itself a welcome and profound portent of things to come.

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