Sidran is on chipper form, backed by a group including trumpeter Erik Truffaz.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010-12-06
Pianist-vocalist Ben Sidran is one of those rare characters celebrated as much for their intelligent pronouncements on jazz as their ability to play it, and his 1971 book Black Talk remains one of the great dissertations to deal with both the music and its wider socio-cultural context. In fact, there has always been something wily and urbane in Sidran’s lyric writing and delivery, regardless of whether the subject is lovers, critics, or lovers who criticise. That the smart 67-year-old Chicagoan should tackle the songbook of Bob Dylan, another famously sharp pen in contemporary pop culture, thus makes a certain amount of sense and right from the downbeat Sidran appears to revel in the words as well as melodies of songs that he grew up with and on.
Recorded in concert at Paris’ celebrated New Morning, Sidran is on chipper form, backed by a European group that features both trumpeter Erik Truffaz and his longstanding bass guitarist Marcelo Guiliani as well as guitarist/vocalist Rodolphe Burger and drummer Albert Malo. They all skip heartily along the most well-trodden of roads in Dylan land – Subterranean Homesick Blues, The Times They Are Changin’ (no "a-" on this tracklisting) and All I Really Want to Do – and essentially bring more blues to the folk-blues that underpinned a major part of Dylan’s oeuvre. Certainly, the band has the chops to give the renditions the requisite energy that Sidran’s gritty, at times snarling vocal delivery requires, and, on the whole, they capture the sense of dissent and defiance that the originals embody. Maggie’s Farm, extrapolated into a dark, brooding 10-minute epic in which Giuliani’s bass and Truffaz’s trumpet improvise sinuously around a jutting two chord vamp that implies electric Miles without the electricity, is a choice cut.
It’s a shame, though, that the set ends with the sole Sidran original, We Are Here but for a Minute – it’s one that really does not highlight his proven songwriting talents to the greatest effect. It’s basically a pastiche of Lay Lady Lay with maudlin, faux-thespian spoken word that jars somewhat compared to the preceding ebullience.